As a catcher, Illinois native Mike Wieland has all the makings of becoming a major league ballplayer. But at the plate, Wieland lacks a consistency needed for a high draft pick.
“If he would just hit better, he’d be a sure draft pick,” UAPB head coach Carlos James said. “… He is one of the best catchers in the state of Arkansas.
“He means a lot to this team.”
Wieland, a senior, caught both games of Tuesday’s doubleheader against No. 24 Texas Tech. UAPB (7-17, 7-1 SWAC) lost 3-0 and 5-1. James said he was proud of the way his guys performed and he hopes it gives them a boost of confidence heading into conference play.
“I think coach expects us to all play as one team,” Wieland said. “To really support each other and have each other’s backs and play together.”
Wieland is batting .241 this season, with 15 runs scored, 20 hits, six doubles and seven RBIs. He has a slugging percentage of .337 and has walked seven times.
“Learning how to hit, sometimes it takes some time,” James said. “It is not that he can’t hit, it is just that some people bloom late.
“… He has the ability to hit, he just needs some time to develop it.”
James said between the classroom and learning the defensive work, “He just doesn’t have the time to really develop as a hitter.”
“He has the ability and good hand speed,” James, who has spent time as a scout, said. “In the major league, most catchers don’t hit for a high average or high power anyways.”
Wieland had an eight-game hitting streak to start the season, but has only had two multi-hit games. He went 2 for 5 with four RBIs against Southern on March 9 and he went 3 for 5 with two runs scored against Grambling on March 16.
“I think coach expects me to first be a leader behind the plate,” Wieland said. “And then be a leader in the dugout. Keep guys in check and keep them motivated.
“To always come out and play hard and give the rest of the team a good example.”
Earlier this month, Wieland was named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List. In two years with the Golden Lions, Wieland has accumulated 50 hits, 16 doubles, two triples, one home run and 34 RBIs while hitting a combined .254.
“It has always been a goal as I started catching in college,” Wieland said. “You always want to be the best you can be.
“Finally I got a chance this year.”
Wieland said he is happy with the honor, but he tries not to think about it too much.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” Wieland said. “Just let myself go out there and play how I can.”
The watch list features 72 catchers nominated for the award by their respective head coach. The watch list will be updated to feature other candidates on May 5 before being narrowed down to semifinalists on May 15.
“He had a number of teams call and come watch him play,” James said. “If he continues to work hard, and if the team wins, he’ll get a shot.”
James said unfortunately the success of a team determines a player’s draft stock.
“That’s pretty much how it works,” James said. “The more games we win and the deeper we go in the SWAC tournament, or if we get a regional berth, he’ll for sure get a shot.”
James said playing against nonconference opponents such as Auburn, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Tulane will also get Wieland and others more exposure.
“Another reason why we play the schedule that we do, is because it helps our guys out,” James said.
Wieland and the Lions will host Texas Southern for a three-game series this weekend, starting with a doubleheader on Saturday.
“We have a pretty talented team and I think we are pretty mature and experienced this year,” Wieland said.