Indians' Wolters Adapts To High Class A Competition

ZEBULON, N.C.—One could forgive fans of the high Class A Carolina Mudcats for scratching their heads in late April, wondering just who was the player batting second in the team's lineup. Who was the guy batting .138 with nine hits through the first 20 games, and what happened to Tony Wolters, one of the Indians' top prospects?

What a difference a couple of months makes. The organization stayed the course with the 20-year-old middle infielder, and that confidence is now being rewarded. Through 342 at-bats, Wolters was batting a modest .263/.325/.377 with three home runs, but few players have been swinging a hotter bat lately. Since the Carolina League all-star break, the lefty hitter has batted .343/.395/.481 (37-for-108) with 11 extra-base hits in 27 games and has taken over the role of leadoff man following Tyler Holt's promotion to Double-A on July 6.

"I think if you take away his first month of the season you'd be looking at one of the better performances in our system, factoring in his age and the talent level where he's competing," Indians farm director Ross Atkins said. "The strides he's made mentally, fundamentally and physically have all been very tangible."

A third-round pick out of a Vista, Calif., high school in 2010, Wolters signed with Cleveland for $1.35 million, passing on a scholarship to San Diego. A broken hamate bone in spring training 2011 torpedoed any shot he had to make a full-season roster, and he debuted with short-season Mahoning Valley in June.

Fully healthy this season, Wolters skipped over low Class A on his way to Carolina. Mudcats manager Edwin Rodriguez said it's typical to see young players players like Wolters struggle initially.

"When they show up they want to show right away what they can do," Rodriguez said. "They try too hard. As soon as they understand that it's a process, it's a long season, you're going to have good days and bad days, they find out how the system works and they slow down."

Slowing the game down is something the Indians have preached to Wolters, among others.

"Some days I feel like the game is so slow," Wolters said, "and others it's really fast . . . I'm still learning."

Enhanced Plate Coverage

The results of Wolters' extra work in the cage with Rodriguez and hitting coach Scooter Tucker are now showing on the field.

"They've made some fundamental adjustments that have helped him relax and have a little bit better plate coverage," Atkins said. "It's really about him getting his foot down and having a more consistent swing path. Because he's getting his foot down, he's able to relax more, see the ball better, (and) it's increased his plate discipline and given him more balance."

Wolters also mentioned that his early-season struggles were attributable, in part, to the better pitching that he was facing at the high Class A level.

"I haven't seen a lot of pitchers (in the past) who throw a true two-seam and a true sinker," Wolters said. "I had to get used to it a lot. I think it's just going to take time, seeing more changeups, seeing more curveballs, seeing more of all those pitches."

Wolters' defensive ability has never been in question. He has quick hands and a strong, accurate arm while showing some flair up the middle. A shortstop in high school, he played there full-time for Mahoning Valley last year. This season he has split time between shortstop and second base with Ronny Rodriguez, another of the Indians' middle-infield prospects. One level below them lurks Francisco Lindor, the system's brightest prospect, which makes for healthy competition.

"I'd say that each one of them brings something different to the table," Atkins said. "They all learn from one another, push one another, have fun with it, and at the same time they are very much aware of the challenges and the competition that they will have ahead of them."

Atkins said that the Indians still envision Wolters as a major league shortstop, and Edwin Rodriguez said that Wolters has the rare ability to play either position at the highest level. The player himself mentioned the difficulty in learning a new position but added that he doesn't have much of a preference.

"I feel like second is a harder position," Wolters said. "There are different angles and it's a tougher side-to-side position. I love shortstop, but I'm starting to love second base and I just need to work and get better at it."

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Wolters talked about the everyday grind of pro ball and mastering a routine that works for him. Working smarter, not harder, as he described it, has paid dividends as he makes his way through his first full season. Others in the organization rave about Wolters' consistent, professional approach and the resilience that he has shown.

"The overriding theme of his year has just been his toughness," Atkins said. "Battling back from a slow start and battling through a very difficult league at a very young age, and playing two positions while he's doing it. His work and his commitment hasn't wavered one bit."

Rodriguez couldn't come up with enough good things to say about Wolters, from his on-field ability to the attitude that he brings every day.

"For him it seems like there is no failure," Rodriguez said. "If there's any failure he will work at it. He embraces the challenge and is willing to pay the price. He hasn't said anything to me, and I haven't talked to him about that. That's just the way he is."