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BSN Exclusive: How MLB's catching fraternity has shaped Tony Wolters

Patrick Lyons Avatar
April 3, 2019

Tony Wolters has yet to celebrate his 27th birthday.

Drafted 87th overall as a high school shortstop, it wasn’t until his fourth season as a professional that Wolters picked up the tools of ignorance.

And yet somehow, he’s already played in over 200 games, logged more than 700 plate appearances, and achieved one of the biggest hits in the Rockies history; a thirteenth-inning single to give Colorado the go-ahead run against the Chicago Cubs in the 2018 Wild Card Game.

Searching the entirety of the major league, only four other catchers can make such a claim in regards to being so young and having as much major league experience: Willson Contreras, Austin Hedges, Gary Sanchez, Omar Narvaez.

While not yet household names, more notable players like Buster Posey, Yadier Molina and J.T. Realmuto would have also made that list during their more youthful days.

But the experience Wolters has received at the major league level is now more than he received while developing his ability behind the dish in the minors at A and Double-A levels with Cleveland.

Discussing this with the three-year veteran, such a concept of learning by doing did not escape him. Rather, it brought to light a lot more than what Wolters has been through on the diamond.

“I think experience is very important. I’m very blessed and fortunate to have the time up here and gain some of the pitchers and the experience because catching is a really hard position. The more experience you have, the more relaxed you are on the field, the more you can be free out there and play.”

Critical to Wolters’ development has been teammate Chris Iannetta, who has helped highlight the ways in which a catcher needs to evolve during his career.

“Chris said he was a totally different player coming up to what he is now. I think you just keep growing. He brings up stories that have happened in the past with him. He’s like, ‘Don’t think about that in the moment,’ you know. Little things.”

For Wolters – and, ultimately, all athletes who need others to improve and alter their game accordingly through the phases of their career – it’s been the fraternity of catchers that has helped turned him into a major league catcher in a relatively short amount of time.

“I think I’ve been very fortunate enough… I came up with Nick Hundley, got around with him. And when (Jonathan) Lucroy came around, I got to pick his brain. Drew Butera, I got to pick his brain last season. I’ve been around some really good catchers.”

During his time with Cleveland, there was lots of support for Wolters, too.

“Even when I was with the Indians, I got to hang around with Yan Gomes (now with the Nationals) and Roberto Perez. I’m truly blessed in the opportunity of being able to pick people’s brains.”

Wolters’ list of gratitude continued as he delved deeper into all those who have given a hand in molding his still young career.

“It’s not even just players. Even a guy that I get to be around everyday is (Bench Coach) Mike Redmond and how good of a catcher he was. (Mark) Strittmatter, that’s our catching coordinator. I’m surrounded by guys that are truly on a level that I’ve always wanted to be at.”

Before the breath of air could escape for a follow up question, Wolters added, “You know, I’m not striving to just stick up here, I’m striving to be the best.”

Between games, when there’s countless hours of down time between stretching and cage work and video examination, players share stories of their experiences, both successes and failures. During these times Wolters has gleaned countless amounts of situational knowledge from those in the fraternity.

“I think having guys that have had the experience is very beneficial. I think it’s such a dynamic job to where I think you have to have experience around you to learn. Because you could feel pretty lonely if you didn’t have that guy that didn’t go through situations that you’re going through now. And they’re always there for you, and they’re a positive influence. They’re like, ‘Man, hey, I understand, I was in the same boat.’ Even just hearing those kind of words, they make you feel like, “Ok, I’m not the only one. Alright, it’s hard, but I can get through it because he got through it.’”

It’s this type of unity amongst catchers that fires him up and make him proud to not only be one of the few who gets to be a backstop in the majors, but one who does so for the Rockies.

“It’s a fraternity. Like our group here, this is our catching wall and we stick together,” gesturing to the southeast wall of Colorado’s clubhouse at Salt River Fields. “This is our thing, we understand each other. We understand what we go through. We understand how hard it is and it’s definitely a fraternity, that’s for sure.”

Whether or not Wolters even realized it, he’s already moved up the line and become a mentor to the young backstops in the organization.

Dom Nuñez, member of the 2018 Hartford Yard Goats, specifically sites Wolters as having the most impact upon his growth thus far.

“Honestly, he’s probably helped my career the most out of all the catchers that I’ve talked to as far as actual mechanics of catching. He explains it the best to me and easiest for me to learn.”

Having been selected in the 6th round of the 2013 MLB Draft as a shortstop, Colorado quickly converted Nuńez to catcher after a short season at the rookie level.

Because of Wolter’s background as a former middle infielder himself, he has provided copious amounts of insight to Nuńez.

“I try to pick his brain as much as possible,” shared the 24-year-old from northern California. “I feel like I do some similar things as him and I think that the way our body moves is very similar and that athletic regards to that. The main thing he tells me is, ‘Be as athletic as possible behind the plate and trust your eyes, trust your breathing and trust your hands.’ Because when in doubt, your hands can get you out of a lot of trouble.”

Most importantly of all, Wolters cites the support of the man who makes all the on-field decisions as critical for not just his success, but for his growth.

“Bud’s a huge proponent for catchers. He knows how important (our job) is and he’s hard on us. I think just him being hard on us, him seeing every little detail that we’re doing, it puts (the catcher) on a pedestal.”

How is Black’s presence rubbing off on Wolters on every single aspect of the game?

“I don’t want to disappoint (Bud). He’s very big on targets, pitch calling, and I prepare myself to the fullest to where I have zero doubt that I’m prepared. I have zero doubt that every target that I have, I want my target to be the best target because he sees every little thing. I can see him in his office looking at every single pitch that happened in the last game, and I don’t want to have anything where he has to talk to me about it.”

As Tony Wolters continues to evolve, his abilities as the Rockies field general should continue to set him apart from his peers well ahead of schedule.

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