Tony Wolters and the Art and Feel of Catching
Tony Wolters hasn’t been a catcher for very long, but there’s no question that he’s picked up the necessary skills for success behind the plate in a hurry.
Wolters, who overcame long odds to even make the Colorado Rockies roster coming out of spring training, has quickly proven himself as a valuable piece of the team. With Wednesday’s 2-0 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, the Rockies are now 8-3 when he starts the game at catcher.
And it’s not only about wins and losses when Wolters is in the game. Heading into Wednesday’s contest, with the 24-year-old calling the pitches, the Rockies sported a 3.20 ERA. The number jumps to 6.44 with Nick Hundley and 7.82 with Dustin Garneau behind the plate this season.
The numbers are even more impressive when you remember this is a player who had never played above Double-A before this season. This is a player who made the transition to catcher during 2013 Arizona Fall League action. This is a player picked up by the Rockies off waivers from the Cleveland Indians on February 18. This is also a player who Colorado manager Walt Weiss refers to as “a ninja” behind the plate.
“Tony’s done a great job. He brings a lot of energy. He’s like a ninja back there,” Weiss smiled. “He’s quick, athletic, very passionate and has done a nice job of communicating with the pitching staff. He’s really shown up well. He’s a very good receiver who plays with some freedom. You like to see that with a young player. He’s getting that on-the-job training at the Major League level and that only helps speed up the process (of learning).”
Colorado’s pitchers are also big fans of Wolters and his leadership.
“Man, he does a great job,” Jon Gray said. “He’s a really smart guy. He understands a lot and he understands me and how I work. I think we have a pretty good connection.”
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That connection also extends to Tyler Chatwood, who has teamed with Wolters on two of Colorado’s three shutouts on the season, including Wednesday’s blanking in San Diego.
“Tony called a great game,” Chatwood said. “I had a pretty good fastball command both sides of the plate and was able to throw cutters and curveballs off that.”
Knowing his pitchers have various weapons in their arsenal allows Wolters to mix up his calls and continually keep the opposition off-balance.
“It’s all about adjusting,” Wolters said. “We can’t fall into patterns. We have to keep changing and be creative and execute our pitches. It’s not always about the right pitch. It’s about executing that pitch in that moment in that location. It’s hard to hit a baseball. It really is. It’s about executing each pitch and being in the moment. Don’t think two pitches ahead and don’t think about what happened right before. Our guys are so good about forgetting about the past. That’s why they’re succeeding. It’s about executing and they’re doing that, pitch by pitch.”
And how does Wolters decide which pitches to call in which situations?
“Whatever I feel, I call it.”
It sounds overly simple but that’s how Tony Wolters has adjusted to his new position. He’s not overthinking things and watching what strengths his pitchers are bringing to the game that day or night, inning by inning and pitch by pitch.
There’s no question that Wolters still has plenty of room to grow on the offensive side of the equation. He went 0-for-3 on Wednesday and saw his average drop to .154 on the season, including a current stretch of one hit in his last 16 at-bats.
That’s the downside, but it’s also a side the Rockies are willing to endure in the short term as Wolters adjusts to MLB pitchers. The tradeoff of having a catcher who has quickly grasped his position, reintroduced the snap throw to first base into the Colorado catching vocabulary, and can even revert back to his original position of middle infielder when needed is well worth it.
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Wolters has come a long ways to be where he is today. The Rockies are confident his incredible journey from waiver wire pickup to an invaluable member of the team now and in the future is nowhere near its conclusion.