Wolters hopeful position switch to catcher was right choice
The 2013 baseball season is already now into its fourth week.
While players at various levels of the Cleveland Indians farm system are starting to settle in, Tony Wolters is just now beginning his full-time transition from the middle infield to the catching position.
Wolters, 20, was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 Draft as a high school shortstop, but the Indians approached him near the end of spring training about a move to catcher. It was an unexpected move, but one he embraced and one where the decision on the move ultimately came down to him.
“They pulled me in to tell me what they were thinking and they said it was my decision,” Wolters said. “I just made a decision to start catching. It was a mutual decision. It took about a week to decide and I decided to start doing it and see if it will work out, and I believe it will. I love catching and I played it before I played the infield.”
Wolters has been “catching” for about four weeks now. He is still in the midst of the early orientation phase that it takes with such a transition to catching as he spent a few weeks with the Carolina coaching staff doing a lot of pre-game work to give him a good foundation from which to work with before he was given the green light to catch live games.
“He has exceeded my expectations for sure,” Carolina manager Dave Wallace said. “Right now it is just how much do you give him, how far do you push him, and how fast. Everything that we have given him so far he has shown that he can handle it. In fact, he has handled it a lot better than we expected in a shorter amount of time. We knew he could do it as that is one of the reasons we wanted to make the change, but how fast he has picked things up is very impressive.”
Wallace is a former catcher himself as he played seven seasons in the minors reaching as high as Triple-A before he became a coach in the Indians system in 2011. He was the organization’s catching coordinator that first season, and the Indians felt that having Wolters work directly with Wallace and sending him to a familiar place in Carolina since he played there last season presented the best possible development opportunity for him in the early going.
Wolters played in 10 games with Carolina, his last on April 17th, and hit .200 with 0 HR, 3 RBI and .525 OPS. He did not catch any games there as he mostly just played designated hitter or second base. The idea was to allow him to continue to get in regular games and limit the time missed during his transition. Once the Indians felt he was ready to catch in a live setting they sent him to Arizona this past week to play in extended spring training games.
“We just want his first game action to be down there [in Arizona] in that setting when he throws his first ball out into center field or the first passed ball and a runner scores, it is a lower pressure situation,” Wallace said.
Right now there is definitely a lot to learn. Wolters has to pick up the physical aspects of catching such as blocking, receiving, and throwing. He has to pick up the mental aspects of the position such as calling games, handling a pitching staff, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his pitchers and the hitters they face, and so on. On top of that there are so many other nuances to the position that will take time for him to completely grasp.
There is a lot to take in, but Wolters is ready for the challenge.
“I have a lot to learn, but I think it is going to come really easy to me,” Wolters said. “I had second base down, so it is just a different way of seeing the field. I was always looking into the field, now I am looking out. I am a leader already and I have to be the full captain of the team now. I think I just need to soak it all in and it will all come to me. It won’t happen overnight, but it is going to come easier than expected and I feel like I am ready.”
As with any change, there can be some anxiety involved. It is only natural.
“It is not going to make me nervous,” Wolters said. “The catcher is the captain of the field and I have to take charge. I have to talk to the pitchers and see what they are thinking, what pitches they want to throw, call games, know the count, know every play, know what is going on in the field, and take charge. You will see that with good teams they have good catchers. The catchers have a quick tempo and get the pitchers ready. They are always on the go and that is what you need on a championship team. That’s what the Indians are trying to find.”
Wolters has always been well regarded with the way he played defense in the middle of the diamond. His very quick hands and feet and good arm have long been an asset for him for years at shortstop and second base, and it is something that the Indians and himself believe are his biggest strengths behind the plate.
“I think [my biggest strength] is just my quick hands and how my hands work with my feet,” Wolters said. “Right now throwing to second is a little tough for me as I am maybe a little too quick. My arm is good and it is actually really good for catching. I am a catcher-infielder. Teams need that and the Indians want that, and I am going to work towards that and work my tail off for them.”
Now that Wolters is playing in games out in spring training, he is getting the reps that he needs to improve and more importantly show whether he can stick behind the plate.
“I am just focusing in on getting reps; catching the ball, catching bullpens, and just being back there,” Wolters said. “I am pretty natural at everything right now. It is about being quick from my feet to my knees. I have to get used to that. I am working on my whole game. I can do all of it, but I just need the reps.”
Wolters understands that he will make mistakes along the way, but believes his learning and development curve will be fast. Ultimately, when the season ends, he wants to be able to look back on the decision to move to catcher and know it was the right one.
“I just want to get comfortable and be like ‘wow, this was a great decision’,” Wolters said. “I feel like it is already going that way. I am so excited. I want to catch every bullpen. It has made me come back to Little League and my dad is excited too as he was a catcher. I just want to feel like it was the best decision, and at the end of the day I don’t want to have any regrets. I just want to go along with my career and make the best of it with whatever happens.”
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There was talk that Monsalve could open in AA after a good showing in the AFL, plus Haase is looking good at Low-A so far. Wolters won't have to hit as much at C as 2B to stay relevant, but this seems more like a move to increase Wolters' trade value than it is to align with the Indians' org need.
His arm and size doesn't exactly scream ML catcher. This is going to set his development back at least a year, probably longer. By the time they get around to deciding that he can't handle the position, he'll be old for the league he's in.
I think that the org mishandled this whole thing. If they had this in mind during the offseason, that would be the time to get started. Waiting for the season to start is stupid. They set his development back half of a season, at least. This whole season will now be about learning the position & the bat will be neglected. Hope I'm wrong but that's th way I see it.
Rant over. Good luck to Tony, been a fan since we drafted him & I hope it works out for the best.