Tony Wolters came out of nowhere to earn an Opening Day roster spot with the Colorado Rockies. He was acquired from the Cleveland Indians system after the Rockies claimed him off waivers on February 18 and has done nothing but impress since then. As a converted infielder, it’s hard to expect (and project) too much from his defensive performance, but I’m willing to bet he’s just going to get better.
Wolters was the best defensive catcher on the Rockies roster in 2016. From his pitch framing ability to his game calling, Wolters was able to provide something the Rockies haven’t noticeably had for a long time; a catcher who makes the pitchers better. At age 24 and as a full-time catcher for only the past two seasons, that’s a pretty incredible feat.
There is some uncertainty about the catcher position this offseason, but not for lack of options. The elder statesman, Nick Hundley, is likely on his way out as his contract has expired, which leaves the role to the two young guns in Wolters and Tom Murphy, who displayed a lot of power after his call-up in September. The big question is who is going to take the majority of the duties, Wolters or Murphy?
Initially, Wolters’ offensive capabilities seemed extremely limited and like he was destined for a backup role, if any role at all. Through May 25, Wolters had a paltry slash line of .179/.289/231 and showing how much he still had to learn. This was in the midst of more playing time than Wolters probably expected, as he was filling in - along with Dustin Garneau - for an injured Nick Hundley and, while defensively he was performing well, clearly wasn’t providing the offense necessary to earn him a longer look.
Through the rest of the season, Wolters was a brand new player and made an impact at the plate. From May 27 onwards, Wolters produced a .307/.353/.496 slash line, a very similar production line to Carlos Gonzalez’s season (.299/.350/.505). Put simply, Wolters produced when he settled in as a major leaguer.
Murphy and Wolters have two major differences; Murphy provides a power element and is right-handed while Wolters is a left-handed hitter. They both stack up well defensively and Wolters proved, from June through September, that his bat can handle the majors. The Rockies might be platooning their two young catchers next season depending on the match-ups instead of giving one the “starter” designation, which might be the best way forward. The non-traditional path of playing the catchers with the match-ups or certain catchers with certain pitchers might be more of a determining factor for playing time instead of talent, and is likely the best way for the team to get the most out of two young, outstanding talents.
Wolters was the biggest surprise of 2016. Tyler Anderson’s triumphant debut is right on the heels of Wolters. He came into Spring Training with no expectations from us and now Tony Freaking Wolters has a lot of Rockies excited about him. Plus, can you say no to this smile?