Catcher Murphy brings learned leadership to camp

Rockies also claim backstop Wolters off waivers from Indians

Catcher Murphy brings learned leadership to camp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Catcher Tom Murphy spent a few more minutes of hardworking solitude Thursday afternoon, doing agility exercise in the conditioning area at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Instead of moving to a warm climate for the winter so he could be around other players, Murphy spends his winters north of Syracuse, N.Y.

"I was by myself -- I prefer it that way," Murphy said. "I get more done that way, and I'm my best critic."

Rockies Spring Training info

But now that the season is here, he has to be social -- and good at it. Murphy, who turns 25 on April 3, completed a whirlwind 2015 in by making an 11-game Major League debut with the Rockies (.257 average, three homers, nine RBIs in 39 plate appearances). He begins Spring Training -- with the first pitcher/catcher workout set for Friday -- hoping to combine leadership with physical ability and earn a spot in a catching tandem with veteran Nick Hundley.

Last season tested Murphy's adaptability. He played 72 games at Double-A New Britain (.249 average, 13 homers, 44 RBIs), was part of Team USA's silver medal-winning team in the Pan Am Games and spent 33 games at Triple-A Albuquerque (.271 average, 7 homers, 19 RBIs) before his promotion, which occurred when Hundley suffered a cervical neck strain. This occurred a year after Murphy suffered a right shoulder injury and played just 27 games in 2014.

"Being able to handle a staff on four different teams when you don't have that long with them is very important stuff, and it taught me a lot about what it takes to be a leader behind the dish and what it takes to be successful," Murphy said.

At Albuquerque and in the Majors, Murphy experienced pitchers with extensive Major League experience for the first time.

"That was a learning thing for him, catching the veteran pitcher," Rockies Minor League catching coordinator Mark Strittmatter said. "The catcher has to be a leader with the pitching staff, and it's an adjustment to take the leadership role with pitchers who have some big league time. Plus, he had guys like Jairo Diaz and Rex Brothers, who threw almost 100 mph and had big misses -- he'd never seen that type of stuff before. But he worked his butt off and came a long way in that leadership part of the game."

Murphy learned that even pitchers who have been to the top value his feedback.

"These guys are always trying to get better, whether they're 20-year veterans or in the Minor Leagues or Major Leagues, they're always looking for a way to have an edge, and they want feedback," Murphy said.

Murphy shared the late-season catching with Dustin Garneau, another late-season callup, and learned just as much when he was not in the game by sitting in the bullpen with injured relief pitcher Adam Ottavino.

"We were constantly talking about what we needed to do," Murphy said. "He was injured, but he was down in the bullpen watching every single pitch, questioning everything and having that type of spirit. He notices everything."

Worth noting

The Rockies claimed catcher Tony Wolters off waivers from the Indians on Thursday. Colorado made room on the Major League 40-man roster by placing Ottavino on the 60-day disabled list as he completes recovery from Tommy John surgery.

A third-round Indians pick in 2010, Wolters, 23, has hit .258 with 15 home runs and 165 RBIs in 438 Minor League games. He spent the past two seasons at Double-A Akron. Wolters has played shortstop and second base, and he has shown acumen against the run game in three years as a catcher. He erased 38-of-77 (49 percent) potential basestealers last year and has a 40 percent career rate.

Wolters joins Hundley, Murphy and Garneau as catchers on the Major League roster. Also in camp are non-roster invitees Jackson Williams, who has been in the Majors with the Rockies (2014) and Giants (2015), Ryan Casteel, Will Swanner and Dom Nunez (rated the No. 7 catching prospect by MLBPipeline.com).

The Indians designated Wolters for assignment when they signed free-agent right-hander Tommy Hunter, but they hoped to retain him.

"You'd always like to keep your guys, but being fair, the kid's been everything you can ask of him as a person and a teammate," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "So for him to get claimed is good for him. It gives him a fresh chance to go start, and that's good for him. And that's ultimately much more important than trying to slide a guy through waivers or something like that."

Ottavino underwent surgery last year and is not expected back until June at the earliest, and it could be after the All-Star break.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.