If the offseason focus on the bullpen was not evident enough, the Cleveland Indians continued to look at strengthening its relief corps as they signed free agent reliever Tommy Hunter to a one-year Major League contract for the 2016 season.
A 29-year-old right-handed pitcher and former starter at the MLB level, he split last season with the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago Cubs.
To make room for their new reliever, the Indians designated catcher Tony Wolters for assignment. The former middle infield prospect converted to catcher several seasons ago, but hit just .209 in 65 games for Double-A Akron in his sixth season in the Cleveland organization last year.
Going into the 2016 season, the catching depth for the Indians is pretty thin. They’re lucky enough to have two outstanding catchers at the major league level in Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez. Behind the pair though, there are no viable options at Triple-A Columbus. The next player to be on the depth charts behind these two would be converted catcher Tony Wolters, but last season wasn’t very good to him.
Wolters, 23, was signed by the Indians in August of 2010. He was initially brought to the club as an infielder who had decent on-base abilities, along with solid defense. With the rise of Jason Kipnis, and infielder Joey Wendle ahead of Wolters in the depth chart, the Indians approached him about converting to a catcher due to their lack of depth in that position. In 2013, Wolters appeared in 58 games at catcher, and since then has been the primary catcher for the Double-A RubberDucks.
Last season, we saw a lot of changes come to Canal Park. A rebranding of the team name, renovations throughout the park, and haul of new prospects ready to give their all in effort to someday make their way to The Show. After a hot start to the season, the RubberDucks hit some bumps along the way due to injuries to key players, player promotions, and some end of the season fatigue. They still worked their way into the Eastern League playoffs, but were eventually eliminated in the first round, despite their best efforts. Now in their second season as the RubberDucks, returning manager David Wallace looks to continue to compete with a lineup that seems just as deep as it has been in years past.
To start off the season in 2014, there were plenty of household named prospects like Francisco Lindor, Giovanny Urshela, Joey Wendle, and Tyler Naquin. While Naquin is returning this year, starting on the disabled list, the rest of the players listed have either been promoted, or traded to another team. The squad coming into this season is full of guys that many casual baseball fans may not have ever heard of before. Players like Todd Hankins, Bryson Myles, Erik Gonzalez, or Anthony Gallas.
“They might not be as well known outside the organization, but to us they’re right up there…When I’m making out the lineup, and it’s laughable who I’m putting down in the 7-8-9 hole. We’ve got [Tony] Wolters, Myles and [Alex] Lavisky tonight who could be middle of the order guys. It’s a real balanced lineup, but we feel like we could be a threat to score in any inning, with any outs.” Wallace said following Thursday night’s victory against the Binghamton Mets.
Back in 2012, I had the privilege of sitting down and meeting Tribe High-A prospect Tony Wolters, who was a young, hard-working middle infield prospect who was in the infancy stage of switching positions from shortstop to second base back then. The organization was making the position move for one of their top 10 young stars because of a massive logjam that was forming at the shortstop position when they drafted super-phenom Francisco Lindor.
Fast forward a year later from that time and the Indians were again moving Wolters around the diamond, this time behind the plate. The organization was extremely top-heavy at the catching position and could allow Wolters to take his time growing into the position. As we embark on 2015, Wolters has spent the majority of his time over the past three years working on his latest change and this may finally be the season where his hard work pays off.
The Cleveland Indians announced on Thursday the addition of five minor league prospects to the organization’s 40-man roster, protecting them from inclusion in the Major League portion of December’s Rule 5 draft.
Such moves may seem inconsequential, given the difficulties presented for claiming clubs to keep selected prospects on the Major League roster for the duration of the year without sacrificing from the goal of winning. This drafting process is done to help prevent teams from hoarding talent in the minor league systems while giving these prospects the opportunity to reach the MLB level.
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.”
There’s a lot of change coming to Akron, Ohio this spring. After Ken Babby purchased the club at the end of the 2012 season, he’s been making all kinds of changes to the club. Last year a new scoreboard was purchased to replace the much outdated previous one. This upcoming season, even more changes have been brought to the club. Over the last two seasons, there have been some debate on if the name should change from the Akron Aeros to a name that better represented the city of Akron. As of this spring, the formally known Akron Aeros will now be called the Akron RubberDucks. The name originates from the rich history of the rubber factories that started in Akron which inevitably led to the creation of tire factories such as Goodrich, Goodyear, and Firestone.
Along with all the new renovations that have happened to Canal Park, there have also been changes within the team as well. On the managerial side, Dave Wallace has been promoted as the new manager of the team. Previously, Wallace had spent some time as the manager of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2011 the Lake County Captains in 2012 and the Carolina Mudcats in 2013. Each of the years that top prospect Francisco Lindor was a part of the Indians minor league system, Wallace has been his manager. It has been huge for some of the guys who are on the current Akron RubberDucks roster that Wallace is in Akron this year. They credit him for their development due to his laid back and friendly attitude, while also knowing when they need to be serious.
“We’re comfortable with him, we know how he manages. We know how he goes about his business, and we know his expectations,” says catcher Tony Wolters.
This week, DTTWLN’s Laurel Wilder was in Goodyear, Arz. to take in Indians spring training and some sunshine. Between exhibition games, B games, minor league games and the rest of his day, Indians Assistant General Manager Mike Chernoff was able …
The 2013 edition of the Arizona Fall League ended Saturday afternoon as the Surprise Saguaros, winners of the AFL West, matched up against the Mesa Solar Sox, winners of the AFL East, in the AFL championship. In the end, Surprise emerged the champions of the AFL by defeating Mesa 2-0 giving a few Indians prospects the honor of being the part of a championship squad.
The Indians’ bats shined all through the AFL, especially outfielder Tyler Naquin and second baseman Joe Wendle. Both were given the honor of playing in the championship game because of their stellar play throughout fall ball. Naquin led the AFL in hits with 39 and fourth in RBIs with 18. Combined, Wendle and Naquin scored 30 runs and drove in 30 RBIs in the 28 games their shared spots in the lineup.
Just a week remains in the dessert as the minor leaguers take in their last breath of professional baseball for a while. The Indians’ prospects continue to perform well as members of the Surprise Saguaros. They stand at a record of 16-9, four games ahead of Glendale for first place in the AFL West division.
Outfielder Tyler Naquin has enjoyed a stellar Arizona Fall League. Thus far as he leads all the AFL in hits with 35 and tied for second in RBIs. Naquin participated in the Fall Stars game as the Indians lone representative on the AFL West club. He went 1-4 with a triple, run scored and a walk as the AFL West outslugged the AFL East 9-2 on November 2. Second baseman Joey Wendle has been on a tear recently as well including a game on November 7 against Peoria where he posted a 2-4, with a home run, three RBIs, and a run scored.
As the Arizona Fall League, wraps up its third week of play in the dessert the Indians prospects and their squad, the Surprise Saguaros, stand at a record of 8-6, a game ahead of Glendale for first place in the AFL West division.
For the Indians, the minor league bats clearly are having the better fall ball experience. Outfielder Tyler Naquin leads all the AFL in hits with 18. Naquin also has a league-leading 12-game hit streak going into today. During an October 22 game against the Mesa Solar Sox, Naquin and second baseman Joey Wendle combined for three hits, two runs, and three RBIs in a 4-2 victory.