Wolters Taking In Every Breath of His Development with Tribe
By Laurel Wilder
When asked what their favorite thing is about the game of baseball, one would expect a player to talk about making a seemingly impossible out, or driving in the game winning run. For 20-year-old Tony Wolters, however, the smell of fresh-cut grass during batting practice is far more special than any play he could make.
“It’s a great smell!” Wolters said at the Lake County Captains’ Hot Stove Dinner. But, all smells aside, Wolters admitted that he truly enjoys “taking ground balls, hitting…I love the practice [before the game].”
The importance of practice is one thing the infielder from Vista, CA, knows all too well. Selected by the Cleveland Indians in the third round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Wolters played with the Indians’ Arizona League and in Mahoning Valley before spending his 2012 season with the Carolina Mudcats. Wolters posted fairly solid numbers during his first two seasons, batting .211 with two stolen bases during the five games he played in Arizona in 2010, and posting a .292 AVG with 19 SB in 2011 with Mahoning Valley.
Entering his season with the Mudcats, however, Wolters’ upward mobility came to a halt. During the first month of his season, Wolters had 69 at bats during the 18 games in which he appeared. However, the infielder only had nine hits during those 69 at-bats, found himself walked eight times, and racked up 18 strikeouts. When April ended, Wolters posted an average of only .130. He stole no bases, and triple-slashed .231/.159/.390.
Maybe there was pressure with moving from Mahoning Valley to Carolina. Maybe Wolters felt intimidated by the older players on the team. Maybe he was still figuring out what exactly worked for him as a player. Regardless of the reason for Wolters’ shaky start, he refused to let it define the rest of his season.
“It was a good learning experience for me, I wouldn’t take that back,” said Wolters. “I learned a lot from it.”
If the numbers are any indication, Wolters certainly did learn from the trials he faced during April. He came back in May and hit .291 with 30 hits during 103 at-bats. He was struck out 22 times, stole four bases, and improved his numbers to .360/.408/.767.
Wolters ended 2012 posting a .260 AVG with 126 hits during 485 at-bats. He had five stolen bases and an overall .320/.404/.724. Not bad numbers overall, and Wolters’ statistics are made even more impressive when taking his rough start into account.
It’s obvious that Wolters has potential to be a solid player. During his senior year at Rancho Buena Vista High School in California, he posted a .430 AVG, and went 25/25 in his stolen base attempts. With Mahoning Valley in 2011, he also led the New York-Penn League in runs scored (50), tied for fifth in hits with 78, and stole 19 bases to rank 10th in the league.
“I can’t tell you what I’m going to do next season, but I’m going to work hard like I always do and do my best,” Wolters said regarding his plans to keep the improvement going through his 2013 season.
On the field, Wolters also faced some inconsistencies during the 2012 season. Trained and mostly played as a shortstop, the Indians organization is also preparing Wolters as a second baseman.
“I’m learning a lot going back and forth,” said Wolters. “Last season, I would play five games at short, five games at second. I did that with Ronny [Rodriguez, Carolina’s other SS/2B] and we both learned a lot, playing the new position.”
While playing short, Wolters had a fielding percentage of .971, making only eight errors. His fielding percentage was .950 at second, where he made 16 errors. Wolters attributes this difference to the amount of time he has spent at each position throughout his playing career. Although more accustomed being a shortstop, Wolters’ stature (5’10” and 165 pounds) lends itself more to that of a second baseman.
“Second base is a little harder position for me just because I haven’t played it as much. But with time, it’ll get easier,” Wolters said.
Time seems to be all Wolters needs to develop into a solid player. His numbers have done nothing but improve after his early struggle in 2012, and his training as both a shortstop and second baseman show his increasing versatility and value as a player. One of the Indians top prospects and participants in their Winter Development Program, the organization appears to notice the same potential.
As for Wolters’ own expectations moving into the 2013 season, he is keeping them straightforward and basic.
“My goals are to have fun next year, slow the game down, be in the moment, relax, be a good teammate, those kind of things,” Wolters said.
And, of course, breathe in that delicious smell of fresh cut grass before the game and practice.
Photo: Carl Kline/MiLB.com