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Rox's catchers looking to step up offense

February 13, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Somewhere within any conversation, Rockies catchers will note the team's strong starting pitching and 91 wins last season. But they understand that more offense from their position can facilitate more winning.Among the 15 National League teams, Rockies catchers finished 14th in batting average (.206), 13th in slugging

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Somewhere within any conversation, Rockies catchers will note the team's strong starting pitching and 91 wins last season. But they understand that more offense from their position can facilitate more winning.
Among the 15 National League teams, Rockies catchers finished 14th in batting average (.206), 13th in slugging (.307) and 12th in OPS (.657). As pitcher-catcher workouts began Wednesday, fan consternation remains.
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With the Rockies not interested in the Marlins' asking price for All-Star backstop J.T. Realmuto, who landed with the Phillies, and not playing the free-agent market, they return last year's three main catchers -- Chris Iannetta, Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy. All are trying to unearth more offense. The Rockies added Brett Nicholas, who played in 36 games with the Rangers from 2016-17.
"Don't get me wrong," manager Bud Black said. "Do I like it when Chris Iannetta hits three-run homers, or Tony Wolters goes deep at Citi Field … or Tony Wolters bangs a single up the middle against Kyle Hendricks? No doubt."
Iannetta (.224/.345/.385 in 110 games) may be the best option for production. He is just a season removed from his .865 OPS with the D-backs in 2017 (new Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan held that job with Arizona then). And Iannetta hit balls harder than traditional numbers indicate.
According to Statcast™, last year Iannetta's 91.7 mph average exit velocity was 22nd among Major Leaguers with at least 150 batted-ball events.
"I thought I had a good year. It wasn't a bad year, it wasn't a great year," Iannetta said. "I didn't feel I struggled for a long period of time, and I didn't think I got hot for an extended period of time."
Iannetta's average launch angle of 13.1 degrees was a down from 15-plus over the previous three years. He said he "did a few things mechanically that I'd like to take back" -- becoming too rotational with the hips, which can cost him plate coverage on outside pitches.

Iannetta, in the second year of a two-year, $8.5 million contract, turns 36 on April 8, which means there is opportunity for a younger receiver to lighten the load. Wolters, however, will have to do better than last year's .170/.292/.286 slash line, and he knows it.
Wolters, 26, who hit a more respectable .259 in 2016 and .240 in '17, believes his swing became "steep," which meant his bat was in and out of the zone quickly. Wolters receives high marks for receiving and making creative plays, even if all the daring chances don't always work out. But hitting is the key to increased playing time.
"I'm a baseball player," Wolters said. "I don't want to just play defense. I know I can hit.
"It puts a little fire under me. Chris and I, we want to play well back there, we want to hit well. We're working our tails off."
The plan is to carry two catchers, but for a period last year, Murphy was up as a third option. Murphy, 28 on April 3, hit .226 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 37 games. He struck out 18 times in his last 13 games and was left off the postseason roster.
Murphy enters camp out of Minor League options and would have to be exposed to waivers to be sent down. Wolters, who avoided arbitration with a one-year, $960,000 contract, is in his final year of options.
"It's the same little things every year," Murphy said. "Mechanically, we can all get better at what we do. But really it's about leading this team back to the playoffs."

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