We interrupt your crying over the Browns and the current Indians playoff push for a look into the future:
Tony Wolters was the Cleveland Indians’ preseason No.7 prospect (according to MLB.com) after completing a pretty successful season as a 20-year-old in High-A Carolina in 2012. Wolters posted a .724 OPS while ripping 30 doubles, eight triples, and eight home runs while playing 63 games at second base and 61 games at short. Overall, the middle infielder had a .960 fielding percentage and showcased the typical skills and athletic ability which are consistent within those positions – solid footwork, strong arm, soft hands, etc.
Fast-forward to 2013 and the Indians were loaded up with middle infielders throughout their minor league system:
Low-A: Dorssys Paulino
With so many young players filling up second and short, the Indians decided to move Wolters to catcher this season, in the same season that one of the club’s better (sadly) position prospects, Chun-Hsiu Chen, was moved off of the position. Wolters repeated High-A in 2013, this time spending 58 games at catcher. Surprisingly, he seemed to do pretty well, especially given his adjustment period.
Comparing catchers defensively is a difficult task; however, when looking at some statistics on Baseball Reference, Wolters seems to have the skill-set needed to be successful behind the dish. When comparing his defensive metrics to the top overall catcher in the minors, San Diego Padres’ prospect Austin Hedges, Wolters did pretty well:
Certainly, the sample size isn’t nearly as large as what Hedges had, but Wolters did manage to throw out 28-percent of would-be base stealers in a year that he was learning a new position and the footwork and release skills necessary to thrive, not to mention learning how to call a game and work with pitchers from the other side of the mound!
Jason Parks and Mike Ferrin discussed Wolters on their recent Baseball Prospectus Podcast, where Parks had this to say:
You can see that he’s a baseball player…always thought he could hit a little bit…Baseball IQ and skill-set to make it happen. He’s a student of the game. He’s a grinder type of guy…I love this move. He’ll be one of the most exciting players in the AFL from a developmental standpoint.
Marc Hulet of Fangraphs discussed Wolters in late-July, providing these great details:
His above-average athleticism has allowed him to smoothly transition into his new position. A talent evaluator I spoke with recently said Wolters has a good chance to be an everyday catcher at the big league level. “Tony has embraced it completely and every coordinator, scout or coach that has seen him catch has been extremely impressed with how quickly he’s taken to the position and how natural it appears to be to Tony,” he said. “He has shown more than enough potential to remain there.
Even with the chaotic switch in positions, Wolters made some solid offensive adjustments this season, albeit while repeating in High-A. Just look at that plate discipline bump, below.
With Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes playing well at the major league level, Wolters and the Tribe have several years to continue to groom his skills within the minors. After just 58 games, Wolters has the attention of scouts and well-respected people in the world of baseball as not just a project, but a legitimate prospect…something that he clearly has worked very hard to maintain and actually improve by quickly adapting to his new environment.