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Catcher Profile: How will Matt Wieters return this year?

The Baltimore catcher missed almost all of last year with surgery, after starting out hot. What can we expect in 2015?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There's a thing about Joss Whedon that bothers some members of his audience. For him, there are no sacred cows. If he feels like killing off a character, even if that character didn't have a full storyline or things are just getting good, heck, he does it. No one is immune.

I can specifically remember him doing it [SPOILERS] with Penny in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and Ballard in Dollhouse. The most famous was Wash in Firefly/Serenity. He probably did it in Buffy too; I never watched.

Anyway, it bothers some people because, to them, the deaths don't feel "earned." If anyone can go for whatever reason, then why are we watching? We need character arcs and earned deaths, they argue.

Anyway, the point of this is that Matt Wieters in 2014 had a Joss Whedon season. For years, Wieters teased us with that talent, that pedigree, that potential. He was a first-round pick in 2007, was in the big leagues by 2009, and averaged 140 games a year 2010-2013. Only ... he wasn't great. OPS+ over 100 twice, maxing out at 110, never more than 23 homers, bottoming out with a  .235/.287/.417 slash line in 2013. Sure, he entered 2014 at only 28 years old, and he was doing more than enough to justify his spot as a regular, but Wieters had to be classified as an overall disappointment entering last season.

Things turned at the start of the season, though. Through 26 games, Wieters had a career-high batting average, career-high on-base percentage, career-high slugging percentage. His walk rate was a little down, but so was his strikeout rate. He amassed 0.7 oWAR in that time, already higher than the 0.5 he managed in a full season in 2013.

And then that was it. Like he was a Whedon character, right when things were getting good for Wieters, his storyline ended, with Wieters shelved for the rest of the season with the always-frustrating non-pitcher Tommy John surgery.

The question for 2015, then, is whether his 2014 was a real development for the shoulda-been star, or if it was small-sample-size noise that would have faded back if he'd played more than 26 games. Well, at a glance, there's one thing that stands out: In 2010-2012, Wieter's BABIP fell between .274 and .287; it was basically a consistent number. Last year, though, those 26 games yielded a BABIP of .329. And of course, his miserable 2013 featured a BABIP of .247. Give him a handful extra balls finding holes in 2013, and a couple fewer successes last year, and Wieters' lines would have stayed steady.

The other noticeable difference in Wieters' rates last year was that his line-drive rate spiked, up from a career percentage in the 17s to almost 30. His ground-ball rate was at a career-low as well. Numbers like that would be interesting over a full season. (Different batted-ball results lead to different BABIPs, if maintained over a long span.) Over 26 games, though, it's hard to say whether that's a real result or a hot couple weeks. For now, I'll reserve judgment on his batted-ball results and say he's basically who he's been.

Annoyingly, Wieters might not be ready for the start of the season. Worst-case, though, it sounds like any chunk of the season he misses will be a small one. That out of the way, what can we expect out of Wieters when he does play?

Remember, save for some BABIP variance, dude has been basically the same hitter throughout his career. Well, entering 2013, when his actual numbers more-or-less aligned with his theoretical ones, Wieters was ranked seventh, eighth at the position by most fantasy rankers. It would be tough to give him credit for being the same guy as always after a bad season, a mostly lost one, and a 29th birthday in May, but this is still a high-pedigree catcher who, despite his missed time, has 83 homers in the 2010s - the only catcher-eligible player with more in that timespan is Brian McCann. He might not be a treat for the batting average -- though he also might be -- but that power is real.

I can't rank Wieters at the top of the position, not with his missed time and the question marks. But I also have no intention of drafting one of the top catchers, because there are so many better ways to spend an early draft pick. The next tier, though? Wieters isn't a guarantee, but he's a nice upside play.