SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Tony Wolters was unheralded and virtually unknown to the Rockies when they claimed him from the Indians on waivers on Feb. 18.
Six days earlier, Cleveland had designated Wolters for assignment to clear a roster spot after signing righthander Tommy Hunter. Out of that 11th-hour shuffle came an opportunity that the 23-year-old Wolters seized.
Despite never playing above Double-A, he, upon joining the Rockies, began an improbable spring rise that resulted in him opening the season as the Rockies’ backup catcher.
“We knew on the field who he was in terms of his athleticism and his ability to really catch and really receive and really throw,” player development director Zach Wilson said.
The lefthanded-hitting Wolters, who began his career as a shortstop, started catching in 2013 and has thrown out 40 percent of basestealers. Cleveland made him a third-round pick in 2010 out of a Vista, Calif., high school.
With what big league manager Walt Weiss called “a unique skill set,” Wolters gives the Rockies unusual versatility after he played second base and shortstop this spring.
“We knew that he could play more than a usable infield,” Wilson said. “At this point, it’s pretty easy to say that he’s a plus defender in the infield as well.”
Wolters spent the past two seasons at Double-A Akron, and left knee issues prematurely ended each season. After hitting .209/.290/.280 in 65 games last year with two homers, he had surgery on the knee.
No longer trying to set up on an ailing back knee, Wolters flourished this spring. He went 13-for-32 (.406) at the plate and connected for six doubles and a home run in 23 games.
“With a healthy knee now,” Wilson said, “I think you’re going to see a more offensively productive player.”
• Righthander Alex Balog will start the season in extended spring training as he recovers from shoulder tendinitis and builds arm strength. A groin injury kept the 2013 supplemental second-round pick in extended last year before he made 16 starts at high Class A Modesto.
• Righthander Yency Almonte, 21, acquired from the White Sox for reliever Tommy Kahnle, was expected to start the season in the Modesto rotation. During an impressive spring, Almonte showed a three-pitch mix that includes a 93-95 mph fastball, quality changeup and slider.