DENVER – Tony Wolters made the most of his first major-league start. He caught the best performance of the year by a Rockies’ starter so far. He recorded his first major league hit. He scored a decisive run after advancing from first to third on a single. He even threw out a would-be base stealer. Wolters was central to the Rockies victory on Sunday. But to hear it from him, he was just out there doing what he’s supposed to do.
Wolters had butterflies before the game, as anybody would; however, he recognized them for what they were and expressed the ability to channel his emotions into productive play. "Once I catch that first pitch," Wolters indicated, "I’m good." After that, "it’s just a game." It’s not a feeling that will go away with his future starts. In fact, Wolters mentioned Nick Hundley sharing that he still gets anxious before a start. Harnessing the emotion for competitiveness in what, Wolters admits, "is a kid’s game," exemplifies the rookie's baseball aptitude and can stand as evidence as to how he’s overcome the odds and is on the active roster right now.
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Rockies claim Tony Wolters off waivers
The Colorado Rockies have a new catcher in camp, acquired on Thursday morning from the Cleveland Indians.
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Wolters joined the Rockies as a waiver claim from Cleveland in mid-February. The skillset that recommended him at the time is unchanged: He can play multiple positions in addition to catcher. The difference between then and now is that he’s starting to realize the potential of just how valuable that skillset is. It’s not the "multiple positions" part—a lot of players can do that—it’s the "in addition to catcher" component. His ability to manage the most demanding, and possibly most important aside from pitcher, position on the field is what can separate him from the dime a dozen utility players in baseball.
One of the first things Wolters did when he joined the Rockies in Scottsdale was to make "a point to get to know every single" pitcher on the staff. To build this rapport, he projects what might be his best qualities on to his battery mates. "Every single one of these pitchers are playing for the love of the game," Wolters stated, "and they just want to win." For Wolters, his role as the catcher is to help his partner fulfill this ambition, which is ultimately team-oriented.
On Sunday, his battery mate was Chad Bettis, who threw seven innings of two-run baseball while walking zero batters and striking out six. Asked how much of Bettis’s performance could be attributed to his work with Wolters behind the plate, manager Walt Weiss asserted that Wolters has put in a lot of work to "develop relationships with the pitchers." Indeed, "it was one of the reasons we broke camp with him." Wolters excelled in some of the more unquantifiable aspects of catching: calling a game, sequencing, and generally cultivating a comfortable environment between he and the pitching staff.
In their postgame comments, Bettis and Wolters played a game of displacing credit to the other person.
Bettis: "We went over the game plan of how to attack these guys;" Wolters "took control. He didn’t miss and there weren’t many shake" offs; "we clicked well and worked well together."
Wolters: "Chad had a great plan and we executed it;" "I’m proud of him and glad I got to catch him;" "it was a day off for me."
When describing his rapport with Bettis, Wolters began by saying "we’ve been together for … " It sounded as if he was going to say something like "years" rather than the six weeks or so Wolters has been with the club. In any case, he reiterated that they continued their conversations in between innings. They went over the plan and they executed it.
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Of all the positives that took place during Wolters’s first major league start, his work behind the plate should inspire the most confidence. He exhibited essential skills at the most demanding position on the field, which also happens to be a component of the game that can make the difference between a win and a loss. There’s still work for him to do. Specifically, he has not yet shown offensively that he can handle major league pitching, though he has only made a few trips to the plate. But if his catching acumen is really as good as it looked in his first start, the difference between Tony Wolters, major leaguer, and Tony Wolters, organizational filler, might just be getting his bat to acceptable levels. If he can do that, he can leave behind the "super utility" descriptor and firmly embed himself as a major league catcher.
Whatever happens, he’ll have this excellent major league debut to hang his hat on, even if he views it mostly as a small part of a team effort. But maybe that’s exactly what it was—maybe that’s what could make him a valuable part of the Rockies.