Scottsdale, Ariz. -- If Trevor Story is the surprise of spring training for the Colorado Rockies this month, then may Tony Wolters be the revolutionary sent to fire up you ragamuffins and scoundrels. For whereas Story is the Rockies' smooth future star, Wolters is the grinder—the hype man, to use a phrase Connor Farrell may identify with—and goodness knows manager Walt Weiss loves that kind of guy.
I'm working on a bigger story about Wolters now (it should run tomorrow), including interviews with Weiss, as well as Wolters himself and outfielder Mike Tauchman (who very vividly remembers Wolters playing for Double-A Akron in the Cleveland Indians' system last year).
But here's the thing, and it's something our staff has discussed privately quite a bit... I think Tony Wolters might up and make the freakin' big league club out of spring training, you guys.
Obviously Nick Hundley is the starting catcher, and Dustin Garneau the presumptive backup, with Jackson Williams also hanging around and battling for that spot, too. With Tom Murphy out of the picture, though, the Rockies aren't necessarily beholden to either of those guys; as wise as they may be, they don't fit into the future the same way as Murphy, who is now all but guaranteed a ticket to Triple-A Albuquerque. Could Wolters fit in as the traditional backup catcher? Sure.
But here's where Wolters breaks the mold, and where he helps himself: he's really not just a back-up catcher. Over the last month I've asked about Wolters to at least six of his teammates, and his manager, and everybody raves about the guy's infield defense. Wolters himself told me this week he intends to start working in the outfield to diversify his game and help land a bench role. Think of him as the poor man's Enrique Hernandez, if you will. Every National League team could use a guy like that.
When Jose Reyes was barred from spring training, that inadvertently helped Wolters (one infielder down). When Daniel Descalso got injured, that inadvertently helped Wolters (two infielders down!). When Story asserted himself, that arguably inadvertently helped Wolters (no more platoon at shortstop, it appears; one less competitor for a backup role). And now, based on what Weiss has said about Wolters' game—and what we have seen that Weiss loves about that flexible role of a player like Rafael Ynoa—it may be down to Wolters, Ynoa, and Cristhian Adames for two utility/bench spots.
Don't believe me? Here's Weiss on Wolters from Thursday morning: "He's made a great impression this spring. Interesting kid, with a very unique skill set. I've seen middle infielders that have gotten moved to catcher, but they are catchers from that point on. Where Tony is a guy... I'm trying to think of another guy that still can do both probably equally as well, he's a very good middle infielder from what I've seen. It's a very interesting skill set."
But Bobby, you argue after hurriedly looking up his stats on Baseball Reference, Wolters has a career minor league OPS of .684. He's never played above Double-A. Last year, he slashed .209/.290/.280 in Double-A! This guy sucks!
Well, he was injured most of the last two years. But OK, I grant you that his slash lines in the minors have been bad. Here's the thing: that doesn't matter to Weiss.
"I'm not too concerned with him at the plate to be honest with you, I think it's a pretty simple approach," Weiss told me. "He knows the type of offensive player he needs to be. We've had those discussions, and I think he is a kid that is going to find a way to get that done. The way he thinks is very advanced, for his age and his experience. He sees the field. He sees the whole field for a young player. It's been impressive."
Sure, the chances of Wolters making the team are very slim; Garneau is probably the (only) backup catcher come Opening Day. Story, Adames, and Ynoa will likely all make the club in some combination at shortstop and backing up the entire infield, and Wolters would probably start at Triple-A Albuquerque, or even Double-A Hartford.
But Wolters is on the 40-man roster, which is one huge hurdle that he's already climbed; an addition to the 25-man would be pretty simple. Wolters also has the positional flexibility that we know Weiss loves (you remember Rafael "tough out" Ynoa's 2015 season).
And darn it if Tony Wolters isn't the most competitive guy I've talked to all spring. I even asked Eric Garcia-McKinley to run the PECOTA simulator with Wolters' spring training number (87) to get a sense of the Rockies' win total. 83-79, third place. Hey, that's better than what will happen in reality?
I'm telling y'all, Tony Wolters has a significantly-larger-than-zero chance of making this Opening Day roster, and I'll be damned if he doesn't come out the first week of April and hit, like, four homers or something.
★ ★ ★
Lest you not yet think Wolters is a cool enough dude already, here's an actual, verbatim exchange between me and him from Thursday afternoon for a story I'm working on about players' choices for walk-up music this year:
Me: Have you picked a walk-up song yet? What have you had in the past?
Tony: I've had Selena Gomez, I've had some random stuff. I haven't really even thought about that, but I need something with a beat, something to slow it down a little bit. I think this year I'll have a little slower song so I can walk up to the plate with a little swagger.
Me: So what makes a bad one? Is there a teammate you've had that just had a bad walk-up song?
Tony: Yeah, some of the guys have had some girly songs.
Me: Wait, you just told me you had Selena Gomez.
Tony: I know but, like, that was a cool song. There were, like, some rappers in there. I don't even know who they were, but it was a good song.
This guy. This guy can play every position on the diamond and he understands the importance of club bangers like Selena Gomez's entire freakin' music catalog.
Tony Freakin' Wolters, y'all. This is, like, a thing.