Wolters Continues to Thrive Behind the Dish
Danny Madden | On 08, Apr 2014
Playing one position in baseball is hard enough, but converting to a new one is an even bigger challenge. For Tony Wolters though, it was just another piece of the puzzle. During the spring before the 2013 season, Wolters, a previous infielder, was proposed with the idea of switching from the infield to start playing catcher. Due to the deep set of infielders already in the minor leagues and a lack of catching depth, Wolters agreed to begin the transition.
“When he brought it up in spring training, and asked me to try it out,” Wolters says about Terry Francona regarding the transition. “I took a day and I thought ‘I have to do this. He’s seen so much baseball, he knows what he’s talking about.’ I was scared at the beginning, but as it went on I started to fall in love with the position. It went well, and it’s going well. I’m having pitchers on the staff, spring training guys, always picking and picking telling me what to work on and things that I’m doing good. It can’t go better than it has been. I’m enjoying it.”
Wolters has now spent one complete year playing catcher. He began his transition during the 2013 season while playing for the High-A Carolina. Once the season had concluded, Wolters training and condition to become a better catcher was far from over. After the season concluded, he began to play in the Arizona Fall League to better practice his skills and really learn to play his new position. With a new position comes challenges. For Wolters, his biggest challenge was learning how to control the game and not letting it speed up on him too much.
“I can’t have the game speed up,” Wolters explains “That’s with every position, but with catching it’s more prominent. When you’re not in a good rhythm with the pitcher, you’re not picking the right pitches to throw, that’s hard. It’s hard to get back to the place of ‘Let’s slow this game down, let’s get it on our pace.’ That’s one thing that I’ve been working on.”
After spending a season in Carolina as a catcher, there were concerns about how this position switch would affect his offense. When a player is spending time learning a new position, it can be hard to focus on making sure you’re still staying consistent with your offensive abilities, along with the defense. For Wolters though, he actually began to thrive at his new position offensively. In 80 games in Carolina in 2013, Wolters batted .277/.369/.722. In 2012, before his transition began, in 125 games in the Carolina league, he hit .260/.320/.724. This could be credited to his development as a player, but what’s important to notice is that he didn’t drop in offense, even after he switched positions. That’s huge for a player who is just starting in a new place on the diamond, especially one as physically demanding as a catcher.
This season, Wolters has been promoted from Carolina to Double-A Akron and to be a member of the newly reinvented RubberDucks. He’s not going to be the only catching prospect on the team though. The team itself is deep in all positions, and that includes the catchers. With Jake Lowery and Alex Lavisky also members of the RubberDucks, there is a concern that Wolters may lose some playing time during the season to allow the other catchers to get some at bats. Sometimes this can create hostility in the clubhouse when one player gets more playing time than another, but that is not something that Wolters is worried about.
“We’re working together. We’re all gonna learn all our pitchers, learn all the hitters,” Wolters said. “We’re gonna help each other get everyone else. Of course, there’s going to be intertwined competition but that’s not how we’re going to go about our business. There’s always fun competition going on, but we’re here to help each other get to where we want to be.”
The camaraderie that this team has built is crucial to each player’s development. Most of the players that are currently on the RubberDucks roster were playing together at Carolina last year under the management of new RubberDucks manager Dave Wallace. Wallace, being a previous major league catcher, has been a huge help to Wolters in his development. Not only has Wolters been able to learn from Wallace, but he also had the chance to attend his first Major League spring training this spring.
“It was amazing, it was an honor to be invited,” explains Wolters on going to his first major league spring training. “I got to work with Sandy Alomar and [Kevin Cash] Cashy, Tito was always there picking my brain. It was good learning from a major league staff and the major league players…I was very honored and glad they invited me.”
After getting a taste of how the big league club goes about their business, that’s an atmosphere that Wolters would like to continue down in Akron.
“They’re so loose and together that there’s no way they’re going to lose,” Wolters said. “That’s how it is here and that’s how it should be. The team shouldn’t be uptight, you should be loose and going and that’s how you’re going to win.”
The key for Wolters this season is to continue to build off of what he’s gained over the last year, not only at what he’s done behind the dish, but also offensively. He does a great job of getting on base, and that is something he will need to continue doing. In his opening day game against the Birmingham Barons, he went 2-for-5 with an RBI and a strikeout. The RubberDucks would go on to win their season opener 7-1 with pitcher Cody Anderson earning his first win of the season.
Hard work and dedication is what has got Wolters to where he is today. As he continues to press on with his work behind the dish, he has the potential of becoming a top tier catcher.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer