Yankees Top 30 Prospects for 2021: Austin Wells (C, #6)
Brian Cashman does not like to let former drafted talent go. The go-to piece to support the hypothesis comes via Gerrit Cole, yet another name also had said no to the Yankees after being taken in the 35th round of the MLB draft back in 2018: Austin Wells. After two seasons with high accolades at Arizona, Wells found himself again drafted by the Yankees (this time in the 1st round) as promising offensive catcher with defensive work. He fits the recent Yankees mold, though is it too early to call him the heir-apparent to Gary Sanchez?
AUSTIN WELLS, C (#6):
Age/Date of Birth: 21 Years Old (07/12/1999)
Most Recent Team(s) (Level and Year): Arizona Wildcats (NCAA D-I, PAC-12, 2020), Tampa Tarpons (Class-Low-A, 2021)
Most Recent Yearly Statistics (2020): .375/.527/.589 (1.116 OPS), 2 HR, 14 RBIs, 17 Walks, 14 Strikeouts (15 Games, 56 At-Bats)
Height/Weight: 6’2”/220 Pounds
Acquired: Drafted by the Yankees in the 1st Round of the 2020 MLB First Year Player Draft with the 28th Overall pick
MLB ETA: 2023
AUSTIN WELLS SCOUTING GRADES (20-80 SCALE):
What to Know:
Coming out of Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas, NV) there were two options waiting for Austin Wells to continue playing baseball: go to college, or play professionally. As a high school senior in 2018, Austin Wells was selected in the 35th round of the MLB draft by the New York Yankees. However, with a strong commitment to the University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ, NCAA D-I, PAC-12) the Yankees weren’t able to coax the budding catcher from a collegiate career with a late round offer. Ultimately, this would pay off for Wells.
As a freshman in 2019, Wells would go on to win the PAC-12 freshman of the year award, becoming the first player out of Arizona to do so. With this, he would also earn First-Team Freshman All-American honors by a multitude of publications. Starting in all 56 games, Wells hit to a .353/.462/.552 (1.014 OPS) triple-slash with 5 HR’s and 60 RBI’s, while setting many freshman records at Arizona (runs scored, OBP, 60 runs/60 RBI). It was safe to say Wells earned his spot on the team.
That summer, Wells would play in the *shivers* Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, earning a starting place on the All-Star team and the league’s “Outstanding Pro Prospect Award”. Over 42 games he would hit .308/.389/.526 with 7 HR’s and 26 RBI’s. He would be 3rd in the league for HR’s and 7th in RBI’s.
Going into 2020, Wells had proven himself, yet as a draft-eligible sophomore he had only 15 games to play due to the COVID-shortened season, which made every moment that much more important. So, it should be no surprise he would end up winning the Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year Award while hitting to a .375/.527/.589 (1.116 OPS) triple-slash with 2 HR’s and 14 RBI’s.
With their eyes set on him from 2 years prior, his performance at Arizona boosted Wells into conversations to be a 1st round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. There at the 28th pick he would become reunited with the team he turned down 2 years prior before coming to agreements on a $2.5 million draft-slot bonus. Though, there were no minor leagues to send him in 2020, so Wells had to wait.
So far in 2021, Wells has been assigned to the Tampa Tarpons (Class-Low-A, Southeast), where he had performed decently well in his first stint in professional ball. Over his first 11 games, he has hit to a .234/.345/.404 triple-slash alongside 1 HR and 12 RBI’s.
As a hitter, Wells has all the necessary tools to succeed. Batting from the left-side (a plus for Yankees prospects) he has a quick swing that he controls very well to make consistent contact. Combined with the ability to quickly recognize pitches and a feel for the strike-zone, this helps Wells take advantage of his swing to hit well across the whole field. His raw power also helps him avoid selling out.
Though while his bat plays incredibly well for a catcher, there are concerns about his fielding and arm. While remote work has said to been showing improvements, Wells has had elbow problems since high school which has him held down with a below-average arm. The Yankees believe they’ll be able to polish his work behind the plate to make it work given the offensive tools (see: Sanchez, Gary), though other scouts believe his true home is as a Left Fielder or First Baseman.
What Will the Future Hold?
Austin Wells has played just 11 professional games and is already being talked about as a serious contender to take over for Gary Sanchez behind the plate. And, the Yankees are likely to also be hoping on such development. Currently assigned to the Tampa Tarpons (Class-Low-A), there is a good likelihood Wells gets promoted sooner, rather than later, up to Hudson Valley (Class-High-A) given his 2 “years” in collegiate ball. If he continues to perform, he also has a shot at making Double-A Somerset by the end of the season, though two promotion in a first professional season is likely to happen very late in the season, if at all.
With an MLB ETA of 2023, the Yankees have time to develop Wells the way they need to. Catchers are notorious for needing time in the minor leagues to perfect their craft, of which Wells also needs to develop his. For me, I do believe the Yankees are willing to risk some defensive downsides given the offensive potential Wells has the ability to showcase across the minors and majors in a few years. I don’t know if he’s the heir-apparent to Gary Sanchez as of yet, though the Yankees do have a promising track record of developing catchers for MLB play.