Big Decision for Top Prospect Wolters Brings Big Goals
By Steve Eby
Everyone has big life decisions to make. But for the Tribe’s top second base prospect Tony Wolters, his decision was separated by over 2,400 miles.
“After I got drafted I didn’t know if I was going to go to school or not,” Wolters said.
Wolters attended Rancho Buena Vista High School, about 40 miles from downtown San Diego, California. He was given a full scholarship from the University of San Diego, but before he was able to attend a class, he was drafted in the third round of the 2010 Amateur Draft by the Indians.
“I waited to sign and it gave me a lot of time to weigh my pros and cons,” Wolters said. “I was really comfortable with USD because that’s where my sister went and it’s only about 45 minutes from where I live.”
The lure of playing professional baseball can also be a bit misleading. Most players that play professionally never make it to “The Show.” Playing in the minor leagues is a grind and the patience that it takes can take its toll on a lot of players. “I had a lot of friends that got drafted too,” Wolters said. “I got to talk to them and pick their brains about what pro ball is all about. I knew what I was getting myself into.”
For Wolters, his decision came down to one big factor. “All I wanted to do was play baseball. It is the game I love,” Wolters said. “When the Indians drafted me I was really excited and deep down I just really wanted to go and play. I’m good at school, but it’s not my favorite thing. Baseball is my number one. I had (my family’s) support so I decided to go play for the Cleveland Indians and I have no regrets. It’s a great organization to play for and I’ve learned so much ever since I’ve gotten drafted.”
Going straight from high school to professional baseball is a huge jump for any player, and Wolters is no exception. “The pitching in this league (is tough),” Wolters said. “I hadn’t seen a true two-seam with late movement. Fastballs actually get on you. In high school I faced some good pitching too, but these guys are really tough. They’d throw things I’m not used to, things I hadn’t seen before.”
Wolters got used to it though. In his first full professional season in 2011 with Mahoning Valley, Wolters batted .292 with one homerun, 20 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. He led the New York-Penn league in runs scored (50) and tied for fifth in hits (78). He was named a NYP Mid-Season All-Star in August.
For his efforts, the Indians organization moved Tony straight from Mahoning Valley to their Advanced-A affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats in 2012, skipping the normal stop at Lake County. Wolters became the youngest player on the team and hears about it daily from his teammates.
“Everyone gets on me. It’s part of the game,” Wolters said. “I’ve had to get used to it. I was always young on my teams but pro ball is different. There are guys that have been playing a while on this team and guys that are older than me and guys that went to college. They have years on me. That’s a good learning experience where they’re actually growing me up and I really appreciate them for that.”
Often being the youngest player on the field, Wolters started out slowly in 2012, but has picked up the pace recently. “He’s been challenged to play at this level and we’ve faced very good pitching,” Mudcat’s manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He started very, very slow. Six weeks into the season he was hitting around .180. He was really struggling. You can see him getting better and better and better.”
“I had to tell myself don’t give up. I got off to a really slow start,” Wolters said. “Days didn’t feel like 24 hours, they felt more like 48 hours. My goals were to learn something new every day and to try and get better every day and just to enjoy the grind. Those were my goals and I feel like I’m keeping to those goals. I’m still not where I want to be, but I’m still improving.”
Through 75 games Wolters has picked up his game. He is hitting .247 with two homeruns and 34 RBIs. His approach at the plate is getting better and his defense has been impressive. “(Tony is) getting better and better and better not only offensively, but also defensively,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been playing shortstop and second base and he’s been handling all of this, both positions and the good pitching in our league. He’s been switching back and forth and has been handling it very well.”
Wolters, who is known as one of the hardest workers in the organization, works hard every day to improve. “I work on hitting all the time. I’ve learned from players on this team how to work hard and about working smart,” Wolters said. “I love hitting all the time and I love taking ground balls. This whole team is hard working. I’m learning so much about how to work hard and work smart. I try not to tire myself out but I’m always hitting or always doing something.”
All of the hard work, Wolters hopes, will end up with him living out his dream of playing for the Indians. “I’ve been to Cleveland a couple of times,” Wolters said. “A few days after I got drafted I had to get my physical and it was a long day. I had to go through MRIs and everything. At the end of the day I got to go see the game. It was a Friday night and it was cool; there were a lot of people. Just watching that team play and imagining myself on that field, I was thinking that could be me. You get pretty emotional. Seeing a field that you want to play on, where you want to be. It was very cool. The city is awesome and the fans are amazing out there. It’s a good situation. I really like Cleveland.”
Cleveland fans should be excited to see Wolters coming up as well. “I’m an exciting player,” Wolters said. “I want to be a good player and a clutch player. I love coming through in clutch situations. I’m not going to be perfect, but I strive to be. I’m always going to go 100% all of the time. I’m never going to give up and I’m a winning player. I just want to win games and win a World Series. I want to be a part of that.”
Tribe fans have been longing for a championship in Cleveland and hopefully Wolters will be able to fulfill that goal as well. “Coach always says (to me), ‘four years ago you were in high school and now look at you,’” Wolters said. “Where do you think you’ll be three years from now?”
If Wolters has anything to say about it, he will be in Cleveland.
Photo by Nikolaus © 2012 Carolina Mudcats