Acquired: 3rd round, 2010 draft
Service Time: none
Tony Wolters was in a tough situation entering 2013. He'd transitioned from short-season ball in 2011 straight to the High-A Carolina League in 2012, and did reasonably well there, considering he was still only 20 years old. He'd divided his time between 2B and SS though, and the Indians had other talented players at both those positions, players Wolters was unlikely to push out of the way in his climb up the organizational ladder. In addition to the players already ahead of Wolters, the farm system's team's two highest-rated position players, Francisco Lindor and Dorssys Paulino, are also middle infielders. In short, Wolters was far back in line, and likely to get pushed further back.
Instead of continuing on a path that was likely headed nowhere, Wolters agreed to try a different path, a conversion to playing catcher, a position at which the Indians didn't have much in the way of prospects to speak of (other than some guy named Yan Gomes, who no one seemed too high on). The defensive switch would be the top focus for Wolters (who was a catcher growing up and during his freshman year of high school), and so he was kept in Carolina again, where he wouldn't have to make as many offensive adjustments, and where he could work with Mudcats manager Dave Wallace himself a former minor league catcher.
Wolters threw out 28% of attempted base stealers, right in line with the Carolina League average of 30%, and very respectable for a player's first season at the position since 9th grade. Reports throughout the season have pointed towards the transition going well. Said Wallace of Wolters, "He has exceeded my expectations for sure." It's a big positive for Wolters' future and for the Tribe's minor league depth, but while defense was the focus of his season, Wolters will still need to hit in order to become a productive player.
Here are Wolters' numbers for his two years spent at Carolina:
*the drop in playing time is due to Wolters having spent a month at extended spring training, to work on his defense before playing catcher at Carolina, and then being given more frequent days off due to the strain of playing catcher.
The two things that are probably most likely to jump out from a quick glance are the sharp rise in Wolters' on-pace percentage from 2012 to 2013, and the almost identical drop in his slugging percentage. OBP is more important than SLG, so on the whole, that represents a rise in his offensive production. Still, you'd certainly like to see better power than that, even from a catcher. Given that so much of his attention was on the positional switch though, I'm willing to give Wolters something of a free pass on the lack of extra-base hits in 2013. It'll be something to watch for next season though.
It's also worth noting that Wolters hit much better in the second half (.293/.393/.359) than he did in the first (.254/.336/.344), upping his walk rate even further, and cutting down on his strikeouts. If he can maintain the improved walk and strikeout rates, while getting back to the moderate power he showed in 2012, Wolters might have a job as an MLB starter in his future. If the defense holds but the power doesn't rebound, he'll profile as a backup.
Either way, Wolters has positioned himself as the top catcher in the Indians' farm system, and should begin 2014 as the backstop at Double-A Akron.