Tony Wolters, Catching Convert

Rarely do players successfully transition to more difficult positions, but the Cleveland Indians believe second base prospect Tony Wolters can be the next infielder to be successful converted into a catcher. It’s common for a player to move to a less valuable position when his abilities fall short of major league competency, but occasionally a player will increase his value by moving to a more demanding position. At Florida State University, Buster Posey played third base before permanently moving to catcher. Philadelphia’s backstop Carlos Ruiz was a second baseman before making the switch. Like Posey and Ruiz, the Indians think Wolters can be a starting catcher on a championship caliber team.

Wolters was selected in the third round of the 2010 Rule 4 draft out of Vista, Calif., and signed for $1.35 million, the equivalent of a mid-to-late first round bonus. He’s a grinder — an intense, hard working scrapper who plays above his tools — with a chatty demeanor that fits perfectly behind the plate. As a hitter, Wolters derives surprising power from his quick hands and aggressive line drive swing. When he starts swinging for the fences he isn’t as short to the ball, but generally he stays within himself with a crisp gap-to-gap approach.

At the end of Spring Training the Indians’ decision makers, including Terry Francona, approached Wolters about changing positions. “They knew I played catcher before in Little League, Pony Ball, and my freshman year of high school,” Wolters told me. “They asked me to catch for a reason, if they really believed I can be special as a catcher, I had to listen. After speaking to my parents and my agent, I accepted the challenge.”

In addition to Wolters, Cleveland has significant middle infield depth, including Francisco Lindor, Dorssys Paulino, Luigi Rodriguez, Ronny Rodriguez and Jose Ramirez. However, the Mudcats’ first year manager Dave Wallace was clear the conversion was primarily due to Cleveland’s confidence in Wolters. “More than anything, we thought Tony’s skills and abilities could really play behind the plate, along with his bat,” the lifelong Indian said. “The move should speed up his path to the big leagues too.” Wolters couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. Wallace is a gregarious former catcher who spent six of his seven professional seasons in Cleveland’s farm system before beginning his coaching career.

The Indians believe the defensive tools Wolters displayed at second base will allow him to become an impact defensive catcher. During Spring Training, he featured impressive agility at second. “He has soft hands, quick feet and quick transfer,” Wallace noted. When questioned about Wolters’s arm strength, an important tool which was below average in Arizona, Wallace stated, “It’s not about how hard you throw the ball, it’s the stop watch. What’s important is how quickly and how accurately you can get the ball to second. Quickness is a non-factor for Tony, he’ll always be quick and he has the carry on his throws he needs to get the ball there.”

The transition is in its infancy, but Wolters has no regrets. “I’m having fun,” he said. “I want to touch the ball all the time, I love that. I love control.” His training has primarily been contained to catching bullpens, but he did catch Grant Sides in the 8th inning of a blowout loss. In addition to adapting his tools to receiving and blocking Wolters must manage the physical toll catching is taking on his body. “My legs are dead. They are tired and stiff. But, they aren’t affecting my hitting,” he assured me. Wallace chuckled when he heard that. “It’s definitely a grueling experience. His body is going through an adjustment — it’s not easy to work from a squat position day after day.” To prepare for the grind, Wallace asked Wolters to incorporate significantly more stretching into his day, especially of his hip flexors.

No timetable has been set for Wolters to begin catching daily for Carolina, but Wallace and his staff are impressed by how quickly he’s taken to the position. Wolters knows he has more work to do, but when he gets the call, he’ll be ready. “Once I get in there I’m blocking every ball, nothing is getting by me.”

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9 Responses to “Tony Wolters, Catching Convert”

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  1. guy who knows where the beds are says:

    grinder — an intense, hard working scrapper who plays above his tools

    Beyond the embarrassing quantity of typos in this piece, how in the world is such a description on Fangraphs? The first of April was three weeks ago.

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    • Totally Not Ripping Off FMJ says:

      Wolters is rated at 5.6 ECK, or ‘pretty scrappy’.

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    • Al Skorupa says:

      I’m a little lost here. Read this a couple times and still not sure what you’re getting at. Do you object to the use of the word “grinder?” Not sure what the problem is there. It refers to a player who plays hard all the time and gets the most out of his skill set. It’s largely indicative of a style of play. I certainly think guys who play hard all the time can squeeze more out of their game. Do you object to that concept? Or are you under the impression that all players play their hardest all the time? This isn’t a video game.

      Tools are something we quantify. Trained eyes can describe these things numerically. Further, if you line up 100 scouts to rate say… a guy’s arm, you’re going to get at 95+ identical grades. There are a number of prospects who wouldn’t rate all that highly based on how we quantify their tools whose overall game *plays* better than how their tools would indicate. Talking something that equates to runs and wins. This isn’t “looks good in a uniform” style B.S.. Don’t be so quick to try to tie things up in a SABR 1.0 package. Prospects are not finished products – they’re still in the process of developing their skills and paying attention to *how* they play the game is very important.

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      • guy who knows where the beds are says:

        Talking something that equates to runs and wins.

        [stops reading]

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        • JD Sussman says:

          Guy, I think you’re confusing sabrmetric principles.

          At the major league level, over time, a player establishes an approximation of his true talent level. We can measure his contributions and performance and approximate his value. For instance, in 2011 Michael Young was a 3.4 win player. If someone was to say, “but he works hard! but he’s a great leader.” We would say that may be true, but any hard work he does is accounted for in the statistics. His hard work, while not measured independently, can aid his performance. It just doesn’t aid it beyond what we’ve calculated. It helps him get to 3.4 wins. Trading for players who are hard workers because one believes there is additional value there is dumb. Trading for hard workers and valuing them for their contributions, but understanding their hard work aids their contributions is smart.

          For a minor leaguer, the adjective “grinder” is often used, as I used it above. It means what it says and doesn’t imply that grinders are magically more valuable than their performance. It just means he’ll work hard to maximize his physical gifts.


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        • CircleChange11 says:

          Trading for players who are hard workers because one believes there is additional value there is dumb.

          Except in the regard that it can have on teammates.

          When players talk of other players as being “great leaders” and the like, they’re not talking about how that leader only makes himself better.

          Granted it’s hard to prove/support/measure statistically, but let’s not act like they’re robots that are uninfluenced by their environment or teammates.

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  2. Shane says:

    “Like Posey and Ruiz, the Indians believe Wolters can be into an starting catcher on a championship caliber team.”

    Heads up, this sentence makes little to no sense.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Other than the confusing grammar, it also states that Wolters will be playing for a team much better than the Indians. *grin*

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  3. Dan says:

    Pet peeve: You maybe don’t know everything about bikes, and when you go into the shop to look for one clerks casually refer to bicycle esoterica that is over your head, without providing context. Same thing for guitar shops. Where is Carolina? Yeah, I can look it up, but why not just mention it? Heck, even C-SPAN puts “(D – NY)” next to Chuck Schumer’s name.

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