DENVER -- Although the Rockies signed veteran catcher Chris Iannetta earlier this month, there still is room for Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy.
Last offseason, the initial plan was for the due to split time at catcher. Wolters was coming off a solid 71-game debut after being claimed from the Indians, and Murphy posted a 1.006 OPS in his 21 games. But with a pitching staff featuring four rookies and two second-year men, the Rockies decided they needed veteran experience.
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Ryan Hanigan joined in May and Jonathan Lucroy arrived in an August trade, while Wolters spent time at Triple-A. Still, Wolters' 83 games played (77 behind the plate) led the team, but he hit .240 with no homers and 16 RBIs. Murphy's opportunity was short-circuited during Spring Training, when he suffered a broken right wrist and forearm when hit by the bat of the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo while making a throw on a steal attempt. Murphy would appear in just 12 games over two callups and go 1-for-24.
Iannetta, who played in 89 games for the D-backs last season, is expected to take a similar workload this year. That leaves plenty of opportunity for Wolters and Murphy, who will compete for the primary backup role. No matter how that turns out, both can expect action.
"One guy will catch 100, give or take five, 10, 15 games, and the other catchers will complement," general manager Jeff Bridich said.
The Rockies used five catchers last year, with Dustin Garneau starting the year in the Majors before being claimed on waivers by the Athletics.
Wolters, 25, was hitting .293 through July 2. But his hitting dipped, in part because much of his effort went to handling the young pitchers. The Lucroy acquisition forced Wolters to Triple-A for much of August. But after he returned, Wolters spent off-the-field time with Lucroy, whose locker was next to his, and pushed himself to learn.
"We talked baseball all the time," Wolters said late in the season. "Watching him during games, I'd ask him, 'What pitch was that?' and he'd tell me why he called stuff. He'd come up to me and give me advice. There was communication going on, a lot of learning, a lot of being in the moment through the playoff race. I just try to get good at one thing every day, not try to overwhelm myself."
From the start of Spring Training, bench coach Mike Redmond had Wolters cram on the fundamentals, since he is a converted infielder with little Minor League catching experience. The leadership and pitch-calling are works in progress. Technique-wise, Wolters' body positioning on throws is different than what is generally taught, but he finished sixth in the National League by throwing out 38.9 percent of would-be base stealers, according to Stats Inc.
"The receiving, the blocking, the throwing, he's pretty proficient at," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "What Tony needs is just in-game experience, continue to grow as a game-caller, the instinctual part of that position. It's still relatively new to him.
"Every game that he's behind the plate, it helps him. Every time that he has interaction with a pitcher, every conversation he has with me or Mike Redmond or the pitching coaches, that is beneficial for him. He's still growing."
Murphy, a third-round pick out of the University of Buffalo in 2012, has struggled with various injuries since, and missed most of '14 at Double-A Tulsa with a shoulder injury. After recovering from the broken arm, Murphy made 10 appearances during a 14-day period in June with Hanigan out with an ankle injury, but seemed to be pressing and was sent back to Triple-A.
Murphy learned from it.
"That's been something that's hindered me in a way, trying to impress other people," said Murphy, who turns 27 on April 3. "It's easier said than done, especially in my case, because it's how I've always been. This year I have one of those personal goals. I want to be internally driven.
"What I've dealt with a lot this offseason is continually having positive talk with myself and making sure that I know that I'm confident going into the season that I can compete at any level and contribute."
Bridich noted that Murphy played well in Triple-A (.255/.312/.426, four homers, 19 RBIs in 38 games), and made strides in his movement and ability to block pitches in the dirt.
"This was a tough year for him -- high hopes, high expectations that he probably put on himself," Bridich said. "It sort of went the other way for Tom. But he never gave in. He kept battling.
"These things will all be beneficial as he tries to bounce back this season."