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Catcher competition on display in camp

Murphy, Wolters battle for backstop role behind Iannetta
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Position competitions like the one between Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy for a Rockies catching spot alongside Chris Iannetta have a horse race quality. Who takes the early lead when games begin? Who's up by a nose a couple of weeks later? Down the stretch they come.

So, to pull and bend this analogy so far that it covers the entire 1 1/4-mile track at Churchill Downs, Iannetta and Murphy are going to spend their time at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick wearing figurative blinker hoods over (or under) their catcher's masks. No looking to the side to see what the other guy is doing.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Position competitions like the one between Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy for a Rockies catching spot alongside Chris Iannetta have a horse race quality. Who takes the early lead when games begin? Who's up by a nose a couple of weeks later? Down the stretch they come.

So, to pull and bend this analogy so far that it covers the entire 1 1/4-mile track at Churchill Downs, Iannetta and Murphy are going to spend their time at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick wearing figurative blinker hoods over (or under) their catcher's masks. No looking to the side to see what the other guy is doing.

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"Being in the moment is very important," said Wolters, last season's primary catcher before the Rockies acquired Jonathan Lucroy (now a free agent) for the final two months. "Everyone gets adversities thrown at them. You're always trying to get pulled out of the moment."

Murphy was pulled out of his 2017 moment during Spring Training, when he suffered a broken right forearm and wrist when hit by the bat of the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo while trying to make a throw. He saw scant Major League action last season.

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"Last year seems like a blur," Murphy said. "I really don't have any detail in mind about it. I don't remember anything about it. But I come in every day thankful that I'm able to play today. I come in good spirits. I feel like I am ready to accomplish what I set out for that day, and I'm going to keep it that way."

Both enter with attributes.

Wolters, 25, bats left-handed, which makes him a complement to Iannetta. Last year, Wolters had a .300 average through May -- and was well above that mark early -- but dipped dramatically and finished at .240. But as a rookie in 2016, while backing Nick Hundley, Wolters finished at .259 -- including .321 while starting 24 of his 29 appearances after the All-Star break.

Video: CWS@COL: Wolters picks off Anderson at first base

Murphy, 26, was limited to 12 games last season and went 1-for-24 at the plate. Activated and called up when Ryan Hanigan was injured in June, he went 1-for-20 and pressed offensively and defensively over eight games. However, during his debut season in 2016, the right-handed Murphy homered five times in 44 at-bats, plus had a .659 slugging percentage and .347 on-base percentage.

At the start of last spring, the Rockies appeared fine with Wolters and Murphy going into the season, and Dustin Garneau, now with the Athletics, started the season as a rookie. But general manager Jeff Bridich, realizing the starting pitching staff would be young, signed Hanigan late in spring and had him in the Majors by May 4.

However spring turns out, it's likely the Rockies will need both, as the team used a total of five catchers last season. So the question is not just which one breaks camp for the March 29 opener at Arizona, but whether the depth is more usable than it was last year.

Manager Bud Black will not only look at the Wolters/Murphy competition, but also the other catchers in camp to see if this group has enough Major League-ready talent. Because the current group is in its second year under Black and bench coach/catching instructor Mike Redmond, it's possible the Rockies are less likely to comb other camps for another trusty veteran.

Immediately behind Wolters and Murphy is non-roster invitee Anthony Benboom, who hit .278 in 45 games last year at Triple-Albuquerque after a solid spring -- .250 with three homers. On the 40-man roster is Chris Rabago, who batted .272 with a .350 OBP last year at Class A Advanced Lancaster. The Double-A Hartford catching tandem of Dom Nunez (.202, followed by 4-for-44 in the Arizona Fall League) and defensively solid Jan Vazquez (.289 in 62 games at Hartford, 6-for-19 in six games at Albuquerque) are non-roster invitees.

"I'm tough on catchers; my eye is critical of that position," Black said. "And these guys are handing it great. There's a slew of guys who have talent, and we'll see how it all shakes out."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

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