Yesterday, in a move that corresponded with reliever Adam Ottavino being added to the 60-day disabled list, the Colorado Rockies claimed catcher Tony Wolters off of waivers from the Cleveland Indians and added him to their 40-man roster, as the club confirmed on Twitter:
#Rockies announce they have claimed C Tony Wolters off waivers from Cleveland. RHP Adam Ottavino transferred to the 60-day disabled list.— Rockies PR (@RockiesPR) February 18, 2016
Wolters, 23, has only been catching for two years. Prior to becoming a catcher, he served primarily as a middle infielder, though the Indians decided to move him because of his defensive profile, combined with the backlog of middle infield prospects in their organization. Drafted by Cleveland in the third round of the 2010 draft out of Rancho Buena Vista High School just outside of San Diego, California, Wolters will most likely begin the year with Double-A Hartford.
In his five years in the Indians' organization, Wolters advanced as far as Double-A Akron, spending the 2014 and 2015 seasons there. He was also selected by the club to appear in the Arizona Fall League in both 2013 and 2014. Now, he'll begin spring training with a new organization for the first time of his career.
So, who is Tony Wolters? Let's get to know him.
Scouting Tony Wolters
In the five years since he was drafted, Wolters has appeared in a total of 438 games, and another 29 in the Arizona Fall League. Of those, only 194 summer games have come behind the plate, 151 have come at shortstop, and 78 more have come at second base. There's a lot of versatility here, as he's shown to be an above average defender at every position. In 66 games catching for Akron in 2014, he recorded a perfect fielding percentage. The big question with Wolters is not the glove, then, but the bat.
Ultimately, the issues with the bat may end up being what does Wolters in, and likely were a large part of the reason he was even first available to the Rockies. You can't put much weight into his numbers from Rookie ball because of the small sample size, but what sticks out to me here is his performance in Double-A, especially in repeat seasons.
He spent two full seasons there, and although they were his first two seasons catching, that shouldn't have had too lasting an impact on his abilities at the plate, especially the second time around in 2015. Reports out of Cleveland suggest he has been dealing with injuries, though; if Wolters is healthy, now, hopefully he can offer more at the plate in 2016. One thing that he does do well is walk, though. Despite just a .209 average in 2015, his OBP remained at .290 because he walked 21 times.
For Wolters, the goal this season is to prove he can succeed at the Double-A level, and if he can accomplish that, attempt to conquer Triple-A. He's still just 23, and while that's not ideal for his third go at Double-A, he's not too old for the level, either, and there's still time for his career to develop.
A video of Wolters put out by MLB.com last season shows that he was still well-regarded in baseball circles before his rough 2015:
Closest Rockies Comp
In many ways, Wolters reminds me a lot of Wilin Rosario. A once well-regarded prospect that wasn't able to put it all together at the next level, they both played multiple positions. The differences are there; obvious ones, like Wolters being good on defense and Rosario being, well, not good. Also, Wolters ran into trouble at the Double-A level, and Rosario didn't struggle until the Majors. But each player takes one significant strength above all others—Wolters defensively, Rosario with his power bat—and each must figure out if it can translate into a career at the next level after a very difficult season.
What to expect in 2016
As I said earlier, 2016 will be a make or break year for Wolters' MLB hopes, especially considering it's time for him to impress a new organization. He's still young, but he has already repeated at two different levels, and that's not ideal. If he doesn't show that he can hit in Hartford, he may be on sent on his way rather quickly, especially because he occupies a 40-man roster spot right now.
Don't expect to see him in Denver this season, but if things go well for Tony Wolters, he could make an appearance for Triple-A Albuquerque. He has an opportunity to be an impact catcher at either level if things go well.