About this time last year there was a relatively unknown player on the spring training roster. The Rockies had just claimed him off of waivers from the Cleveland Indians and, despite no major league experience under his belt, gave him a shot to win the backup catcher position. He came out and mashed, producing a .408/.466/.688 spring line and earned a spot on the Opening Day roster. Tony Wolters hasn’t looked back and is set to be the starter this year and it’s not just because of his glove.
Wolters can hit, guys. The left-handed half of the Rockies young catching duo is tearing it up in March and continuing what we saw from him through the end of 2016. Wolters turned it on in the second half of last season, hitting .321 over his last 84 at-bats compared to .215 over his first 121 at-bats. That’s actually a little misleading; when Wolters was the primary starter in May, he hit .241 in 58 at-bats, a significantly higher clip than April and June when he struggled in a more sporadic role. I think his second half is more indicative of his skills as a player than the first half; I fully expect Wolters to replicate something closer to his second half numbers, especially if the Rockies use him against plenty of right-handers.
In this wonderful chart showing Wolters’ launch angle provided by BaseballSavant.com, we can clearly see that he has much more success against right-handed pitchers than lefties. It’s a bit skewed since Wolters recorded 40 at-bats against left-handers versus 165 against righties, but it’s still clear that Wolters makes much better contact and drives the ball against right-handed pitchers.
Wolters is doing it again this Spring, producing a .478/.571/.696 line in 23 at-bats.* Spring training numbers are virtually irrelevant when evaluating a player because the opponents, to this point, aren’t usually all major leaguers, but it tells me that Wolters is ready for a larger role. Don’t be surprised to see him succeed early and consistently at the plate.
Gerardo Parra is walking to first and into our hearts
In the shocking news of the Spring, Gerardo Parra is showing improvement over last season. That’s not saying much, as Parra’s 2016 was a relative disaster given the expectations around him when he signed last offseason, producing a .671 OPS and walking only nine times in 368 at-bats. Parra had a decent first half of the season with a .263 batting average, but only walked four times in the games before the All-Star break. His lack of patience showed at the plate and really hurt his productivity.
Parra has already walked three times in 35 at-bats this Spring.* If he continues this trend into the regular season, we’ll hopefully see some more productivity from Parra, especially since he’ll likely be filling in for the injured David Dahl to start the year. Parra isn’t going to be the player he was in Arizona, but maybe some patience will provide a positive effect on the rest of his game.
Alexi Amarista looks like... Alexi Amarista
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what else the Rockies expected from this, but Amarista isn’t playing very well this Spring. He’s produced a .219/.286/.281 slash line, good for a .567 OPS.* Want to know what his major league OPS was last year? Yes, it was .567. He’s exactly the player he was last year. He’s been outplayed by both Cristhian Adames and Pat Valaika, who has been very impressive this spring and, in my opinion, the leader for the final bench spot. Amarista need to show a bit more than he has so far if he wants to make the Opening Day roster.
Stephen Cardullo and Jordan Patterson look good
Both Cardullo and Patterson had short stints with the Rockies in 2016 and are getting a good look this Spring to make the team out of the gate. Both players are taking advantage of the opportunity.
Patterson, who had eight hits in his 18 at-bats last year, is hitting .311 with a .918 OPS this Spring and making a case for a roster spot that now seems more likely now that the injury bug has gone (and left knock on wood)*. Patterson has been seeing time at first base as well as the outfield and might serve as a platoon-mate for Mark Reynolds until Ian Desmond gets back from his injury.
Cardullo struggled after an initial power surge in 2016, hitting .214 with a .665 OPS in 56 at-bats but looks determined to stay. He’s hitting .351 with a 1.066 OPS in spring training while also seeing time at first base and the corner outfield spots. The Rockies decision between these two players will be an interesting one. Cardullo’s right-handedness might give him an advantage with the Rockies’ lefty-heavy outfield, but he has to beat out Patterson first.