Rockies to lean on youth behind plate in '17

Murphy, Wolters set to provide backstop tandem in Colorado

Rockies to lean on youth behind plate in '17

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- While the former No. 1 catcher for the Rockies was signing with another team, Tom Murphy -- a touted prospect ready for his chance in the Majors -- was signing autographs for fans at Colorado State University on Wednesday.

Murphy, who turns 26 on Opening Day (April 3), has put up big numbers in small action the last two seasons -- a .949 OPS that includes a .608 slugging percentage, with eight home runs and 22 RBIs in 32 games. Murphy enters 2017 as the No. 7 catching prospect in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com.

Possessing Murphy and Tony Wolters, who had a standout defensive season as a rookie in 2016, the Rockies didn't make a strong attempt to retain Nick Hundley, who reached a one-year, $2 million contract with the Giants on Tuesday night. The Rockies tend not to play a catcher in many more than 100 games, so unless there is a surprise, the Rockies are throwing their support behind young catching.

It's a boost for Murphy, since the Rockies are happy enough with his small sample to want to see more.

"It was great, not only for my confidence but hopefully my pitchers' as well, when they realize the front office is behind me as a catcher," Murphy said.

Wolters said, "Murphy's going to help me be my best and I'm going to help him be his best. That's how we're going to be and that's how it needs to be. We have a good relationship."

Rockies on Tony Wolters

Power and a strong throwing arm have been key attributes for Murphy, a third-round Draft pick in 2012 out of the University of Buffalo.

He has 72 home runs in 367 Minor League games, including 19 in just 80 games last season at Triple-A Albuquerque -- after missing the first month with an oblique injury. And he has recovered well from a right shoulder injury in 2014 that limited him to 27 games at Double-A Tulsa. He threw out 33 percent on stolen-base attempts at Albuquerque, and was an eye-catching 4-for-10 in the Majors.

Interestingly, Murphy's biggest development may have come while he was injured last year. Albuquerque manager Glenallen Hill made sure Murphy did his homework mentally while rehabbing his oblique. Hill had pregame meetings with Murphy, in which he would detail the tendencies of the opposing pitcher. Murphy's job during the game was to track what pitchers did in given counts and situations.

"G. Hill is creative with his mindset going into an at-bat, studying pitchers and their tendencies, and he had me keep a percentage and at the end of the game tell him how many times he was right," Murphy said. "It was, like, 80 percent of the time.

"I found that valuable -- 80 percent, you'd be foolish not to. We'd have a conversation about it behind closed doors. It helped me, even when I got to the Majors. I would do pregame visualization of the pitcher and the situation. It was a piece of the puzzle."

Hill appreciated Murphy's aptitude.

"Well, Murphy is a quick study," Hill said. "It took him two weeks or two playing rotations to totally lock in, to the point of total commitment."

Murphy will have a chance to demonstrate the receiving piece. He has consistently graded at average to slightly above through his Minor League career. Some who have scouted him believe his frame -- he's 6-foot-1, maybe taller, with notable upper-body muscles, less-flexible legs than others -- works against him. But Murphy has advanced by being himself.

Rene Lachemann, the Rockies' former catching instructor, briefly asked Murphy to adopt a less spread-out stance, but he and Murphy saw the results were better when he took his natural setup. Murphy said some pitchers like the way his body frames the target, but he has become adept at dropping to one knee for pitchers who prefer a lower setup.

Murphy also said he works well with Wolters, who has a compact, low-to-the-ground setup.

"He's extremely creative behind the plate," Murphy said. "I'll be watching his games and learn from him, and I'm sure there will be things he'll pick up from me."

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.