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Converted catcher Wolters putting in the work

Former infielder brings athleticism, desire to learn behind plate for Rockies
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

PHOENIX -- Sometimes, Tony Wolters doesn't play much like a catcher, which is often good for the Rockies.

Wolters converted from the middle infield while in the Indians' organization. And although he has been a catcher -- at times the regular -- for the Rockies the past two seasons, it's clear he hasn't totally left the infield behind. Sure, Wolters realizes he must continue the years-long process of mastering the position's nuances.

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PHOENIX -- Sometimes, Tony Wolters doesn't play much like a catcher, which is often good for the Rockies.

Wolters converted from the middle infield while in the Indians' organization. And although he has been a catcher -- at times the regular -- for the Rockies the past two seasons, it's clear he hasn't totally left the infield behind. Sure, Wolters realizes he must continue the years-long process of mastering the position's nuances.

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But under game speed, old habits work to his advantage. When runners attempt to steal, his footwork, exchanges and arm angles often make him look like a second baseman in catcher's gear. And as the Giants learned last April 16, all that equipment can't stop him from contorting to make a big defensive play.

"It's not a standard position -- every catcher is different," Wolters said. "I played infield my whole life. I still think throwing to second, throwing to third, it feels like turning a double play. I don't want to lose that feeling. I try to not think about it."

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In 77 defensive games last season, Wolters threw out 38.9 percent of the runners who tried to steal against him -- sixth-best in the National League. This spring, Wolters is trying to hold off a challenge from rookie Tom Murphy for playing time alongside veteran Chris Iannetta. The pure athletic ability that led the Indians to draft him in the third round in 2010 and enticed the Rockies to claim him off waivers before the 2016 season is his calling card.

Last season, Wolters led the Rockies with 66 starts. With then-new manager Bud Black operating as a harsh judge of calling pitches and bench coach/catching instructor Mike Redmond giving him a crash course on preferred techniques, along with being a second-year catcher calling games for a starting rotation that often included four rookies, there was adventure. The stress showed in his batting average, which dropped from above .300 into June -- his early work in the No. 1 hole was partly responsible for Charlie Blackmon's eventual Major League record 103 leadoff RBIs -- to a final .240.

Wolters saw his playing time reduced when the club acquired Jonathan Lucroy (nearing deal the Athletics) at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

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The Rockies signed Iannetta for two years and $8.5 million, but continue to develop Wolters. He receives high marks for communicating with and encouraging his pitchers, and is getting next-level instruction on pitch-calling.

"He's doing better; it doesn't happen overnight," Black said. "Growth and maturity take time. Tony, for me, from last year to this year, has made strides.

Video: LAD@COL: Wolters serves an RBI single into center

"They [catchers] have a lot going on. They have to answer to me. They have to answer to the catching coach, pitching coach, 13 pitchers, the hitting coach."

But there is give and take, with the Rockies not wanting to douse his inner athlete and Wolters realizing that some by-the-book techniques will serve him well as the years pass and the physical demands of catching take their toll.

"He gets the ball out of his glove, he gets it down to second, he's accurate and the release times are good," Black said. "Will you teach it how Tony does? Maybe not. But Tony and Mike are working on some traditional catching principles that will help him over time."

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

Colorado Rockies, Tony Wolters