Wolters wins spot as Rockies' backup catcher

Wolters wins spot as Rockies' backup catcher

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Tony Wolters, whom the Rockies picked up off waivers from the Indians at the start of Spring Training, has earned the backup-catcher job with an impressive Spring Training.

The Rockies made that official by optioning Dustin Garneau, who handled backup duty at the end of last season, to Triple-A Albuquerque on Tuesday. Colorado also selected the contract of outfielder Ryan Raburn, who signed a Minor League deal at the start of camp. Raburn will earn a $1.5 million Major League salary, and he'll be a key to the Rockies' plans to combat strong left-handed pitching in the National League West.

Barring a late-camp injury, the moves draw the Rockies close to their regular-season roster, which will include rookie Trevor Story as the Opening Day shortstop. Outfielder Brandon Barnes has the inside track for a fifth-outfielder spot -- as long as Colorado goes with a 12-man pitching staff.

The left-handed-hitting Wolters, 23, has not played above Double-A. But a Spring Training during which he has hit .407 in 27 games, handled the pitching staff well and demonstrated the ability to play second base and shortstop, turned out to be too impressive to ignore.

Wolters was drafted as an infielder by the Indians in the third round in 2010 out of Rancho Buena Vista High School in Vista, Calif. He was converted to catcher in 2013, but his progress was slowed by left knee issues the past two seasons. However, Wolters had the knee surgically repaired after last season, and after being designated for assignment on Feb. 12 when the Indians signed pitcher Tommy Hunter, his opportunity with the Rockies opened.

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Wolters grew up attending Padres games at Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park. Sometimes he'd just pick a player and watch him for an inning. He did it with Tony Gwynn, Ryan Klesko, Mark Loretta and Khalil Greene -- his favorite player back when middle infield seemed his future. But he also watched Nick Hundley, the guy he'll be backing up with Colorado.

"My parents came to the complex, probably a week into Spring Training," Wolters said. "And I told Nick, 'My parents would bring me to the Padres' games all the time, and we would watch you. You should go up to my parents and say hello.' He did, and they still talk about it."

Hundley piped in, "Now they'll be watching their son in the show."

Wolters notched a double and two walks in the Rockies' 6-1 win over the D-backs on Tuesday.

Garneau took the lead in the competition for the job when the Rockies optioned their catcher of the future -- Tom Murphy -- to Albuquerque on March 18. But Wolters continued to demonstrate receiving skills and the ability to handle the running game (he has thrown out 88 of 220 would-be basestealers in the Minors), and the hitting was a bonus.

"He's done a really nice job behind the plate as far as his receiving, his throwing, the ability to think along with the pitcher and think along the game," manager Walt Weiss said. "Dustin does those things, too. He showed that last September. But that combined with Tony's skill set -- his ability to play multiple positions -- certainly factored in.

"Outstanding job, particularly by Jon Weil [Colorado's assistant general manager, player personnel], to pick up on that waiver claim. Really, it's quite a story. We didn't know the kid until Spring Training started. Over the course of six weeks, he's won a lot of people over. It's hard to do in this game."

Raburn, who turns 35 on April 17, batted .301 with a .393 on-base percentage for the Indians last season. The regular outfield consists of all left-handed hitters -- Gerardo Parra in left, Charlie Blackmon in center and Carlos Gonzalez in right -- so Raburn is a lineup option against top lefties in the NL West.

Raburn's four-RBI game

Last season, the Rockies were 19th in the Majors in runs and 23rd in OPS against left-handed pitching.

"I didn't know Ryan very well, other than the name, and seeing him occasionally on TV, since he was in the other league," Weiss said. "[Since he joined the Rockies] I've seen a professional hitter. You always need more of that. And we need more of that, with our issues against left-handed pitching."

Raburn replaces shortstop Jose Reyes, who is on the restricted list because MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred placed him on paid leave while his offseason domestic violence case is still pending. The rules allow the Rockies to replace a player on the restricted list.

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.