Wolters keeps approach at plate simple

Rockies catcher had successful second half of 2016 with bat

Wolters keeps approach at plate simple

SCOTTSDSALE, Ariz. -- Analysts and poets alike are fascinated by the sophistication and beauty Rockies catcher Tony Wolters displays handling each pitch. But with the bat, Wolters is simple -- and simple is good.

Wolters, who hasn't played since last Sunday because of a hyperextended right elbow but should return in the next couple of days, has quietly become a lower-order threat. After hitting .216 last year before the All-Star break, he hit .321 in the second half. In five Cactus League games before being rested -- manager Bud Black said the Rockies are being extra-cautious with him -- Wolters was 6-for-13 (.462) with a double, a home run and four RBIs.

Wolters, who was acquired via waivers from the Indians last year as Spring Training started, unexpectedly made the Rockies' Opening Day roster. Acclimating to the Majors and the residual effects of offseason left meniscus surgery were part of the reason for the slow offensive start. But by midseason, the knee was stable and Wolters found his swing.

"He's swinging the bat well," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "For him, it's not to let the swing get too big based on that home run [this spring]. He's a line-drive hitter, has to use the whole field. Just stay who he is."

Wolters, 24, found that low-stress offensive approach last season, since his main responsibility was always on his mind. Wolters finished fifth in the Majors in "called strikes above average" (CAA), a pitch-framing stat, despite catching just 501 1/3 innings. According to Fangraphs, his two Defense Runs Saved (DRS) was fifth among catchers who logged at least 500 innings.

"The No. 1 priority of a catcher is catching," Wolters said. "There are going to be some days where I don't even go into the [batting] cage. It's not that I don't care about hitting. But I'm stressed out because there's a good lineup coming in, and we need to get them out.

"I always prioritize, defense first, offense second. I'm always going to be like that. But once I see enough pitches, offensive will become more natural."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.