Austin Wells impressed this spring with his bat and the Yankees’ 2020 first-round draft pick continues to put up impressive numbers this fall. The catcher was named the Arizona Fall League hitter of the week for the second week of the prospects league.
“He’s got a nice smooth swing, raw power and uses all fields,” one scout in Arizona said of Wells. “He’s having a good start down here. A lot of hitters are right now, the pitching isn’t really up to the level of the hitters.”
In three games for the Surprise Saguaros, Wells hit .538/.600/1.154 with an OPS of 1.754. He drove in five runs and had three doubles, a triple, and a homer.
Overall this fall, Wells is hitting .409/.480/.773 with five extra-base hits.
That’s what the Yankees were expecting from Wells when they drafted him. He was an offense-first catcher out of the University of Arizona with a lefty bat that had good power. After mixing in with the big leaguers some in spring training, Wells topped out at High Class A this season. He slashed .264/.390/.476 with 16 homers and 76 RBI in 103 games.
Scouts are very high on his offensive potential.
“It’s a good looking swing,” with “knowledge of the strike zone,” and “above average power,” one scout said of Wells. “Showed an ability to turn on velocity and go the other way.”
The same scout, however, said that more elite pitching has had Wells late on fastballs and that he has struggled with breaking balls, “especially lefty vs. lefty.”
And still there are concerns about Wells’ ability to stay behind the plate. This season, Wells had 16 passed balls in 70 games at catcher. With questions about his arm — and elbow injury issues that date back to high school — Wells didn’t quiet any critics by nabbing just 13% of base-stealers in his first season of pro baseball.
“Struggling to get anything on the ball (when throwing) and his hands aren’t much better,” one scout said of Wells behind the plate. He also said Wells is late to react and clunky at times behind the plate. He described Wells’ attempts to frame pitches as “loud pulling pitches into the zone,” and he doesn’t think that will work in the higher levels and most definitely not in the big leagues.
“A little leaner than (I was) expecting,” the scout said. He noted that Wells’ lateral agility, which catchers need to block pitches, was not great. “And he had trouble controlling the bounces.”
The Yankees and Wells had emphasized that they want him to stick at catcher. After being drafted in the COVID-19 abbreviated 2020 season, in which the minor league seasons were canceled and the Yankees decided not to hold instructional league camp for their prospects, Wells was limited to working remotely with the organization’s catching coaches. The team was encouraged by his early work and hope he will develop.
According to the three scouts who have seen him this fall and season, however, that seems unlikely. Several compared him to Kyle Schwarber, who was also a college catcher (and one who Yankee brass long had an interest in).
“He’s likely going to end up at first base,” one scout said. Another suggested a first base/catcher platoon situation and yet another said he could see him following Schwarber into left field.
With the emphasis on the future of the catcher after the Yankees’ disappointing 2021 season and frustration of fans with Gary Sanchez, there was hope Wells would be a quick fix with his lefty bat. That does not look like it will be the case, but Wells has a solid left-handed bat that could make good use of the short porch in Yankee Stadium someday.