MiLB.com's Scouting Report series spotlights players who are just starting their professional careers, focusing on what the experts are projecting for these young phenoms. Here's a look at sixth-ranked Yankees prospect Austin Wells. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here.
Using the sheer depth of
MiLB.com's Scouting Report series spotlights players who are just starting their professional careers, focusing on what the experts are projecting for these young phenoms. Here's a look at sixth-ranked Yankees prospect Austin Wells. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, <a href="https://www.milb.com/about/nationwide-road-to-the-show" target="blank" >click here_.
Using the sheer depth of their farm system, the Yankees were able to add two big bats at the deadline and catapult themselves into postseason contention while holding on to most of their top prospects.
Among the group who stayed was Austin Wells, the 2020 first-rounder probably destined to remain in some sort of pinstripes for the rest of his career.
The Yankees’ sixth-ranked prospect had established a relationship with the club as an amateur. He was first drafted by the Bombers in the 35th round in 2018 out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas -- the same prep program that produced Joey Gallo, one of those two big boppers the Yankees acquired before the deadline.
There wasn’t much doubt at that point that Wells would honor his college commitment, and he went on to a decorated career at the University of Arizona. He was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2019 and earned a spot on the Buster Posey Award watch list for the nation’s top college catcher before the pandemic limited his 2020 season to just 13 games.
Wells batted .353 with a 1.033 OPS, seven homers and 73 RBIs in 269 at-bats with the Wildcats. But he also turned heads with the wood bat in the Cape Cod League in 2019, earning Outstanding Pro Prospect honors with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.
As a Draft-eligible sophomore last June, Wells figured he’d hear his name called in the back of the first round. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder was fortunate to go to a club with which he’d had an established relationship.
“We thought he was one of the top hit and power combinations in the Draft,” Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ vice president of domestic amateur scouting, told MLB.com after the event. "We love his desire and makeup, along with his athleticism. We have known him for years and seen him progress quite a bit behind the plate to allow us to believe he can be an impact guy.”
After signing for $2.5 million, just above slot value for the No. 28 overall pick, it took some time for Wells to make an impression on his new organization. But once he got to Spring Training and got to take some hacks with the big leaguers, the 22-year-old’s bat caught some immediate attention.
“He can hit; we really like his swing,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone told MLB.com in March. “One of the things that stands out to me is that I didn’t necessarily know how strong he is. He’s as strong as anyone in camp, especially when you test them and everything. Some of the conversations that he’s having are pretty advanced from a hitting standpoint. This is a guy that loves hitting and understands it a little bit.”
Wells collected a pair of singles in seven at-bats in big league Spring Training and has remained a consistent hitter through his first Minor League season. He batted .258 in 65 games with Low-A Tampa, and he sports an identical average through his first 62 at-bats with High-A Hudson Valley. He earned the promotion on Aug. 3 after swatting nine homers, tallying 17 doubles, driving in 53 runs and amassing an .877 OPS for the Tarpons.
“I’m just taking it day by day,” Wells told MLB.com in March. “I’m not looking too far into the future and not thinking too much about the past and what’s happened, or what should have been. I’m just taking the opportunities that come to me and really taking advantage of those, for sure.”
Since the promotion, the Las Vegas native has collected seven extra-base hits, including three homers, with 11 RBIs and an .836 OPS. The left-handed swinger is at his best when he uses an all-fields approach, and he’s done a pretty good job of that at the professional level.
Like almost every catcher new to the professional ranks, there were questions about Wells’ ability to stick at the position. So far, it’s the only defensive position he’s played through 57 games in the field. And he’s thrown out 10 of 88 would-be base stealers.
He’s definitely a bat-first prospect, with some real questions about his arm strength. But throughout camp, Wells drew rave reviews from Yankees catching coach Tanner Swanson for his work ethic and desire to remain at the position.
“I think we’ve seen tremendous strides since we acquired him,” Swanson said in March. “He’s a more-than-adequate defender, and I think the ceiling is really high. We’ve all been able to see what he can do offensively already here in the short stint.”
Although his sights are set on manning the area behind the plate in the Bronx, Wells would understand if his future took him in a different direction. But even if it’s at another position, he’s confident that he’ll one day get to earn his pinstripes.
“I'm a catcher, and I want to be a catcher,” Wells said after being drafted. “I know I'm definitely willing to do whatever it takes to get to the big leagues. If that's at another position, then I'll just hit home runs at Yankee Stadium and play wherever they need me to.”
Here's what the experts at MLB Pipeline have to say about Wells:
Scouting grades (20-80 scale)
“The Yankees like offensive-minded catchers, which led them to draft Wells twice, in the 35th round out of a Las Vegas high school in 2018 and 28th overall as a first-rounder two years later. In between, he won Pacific-12 Conference freshman of the year and Cape Cod League prospect of the year awards in 2019 and hit .357/.476/.560 in two seasons at Arizona. New York didn't have an instructional league program, so he didn't participate in any official team activities in 2020 after signing for a slightly over-slot $2.5 million as a sophomore-eligible.
Wells had one of the best all-around offensive profiles in the 2020 Draft. He employs a quick yet controlled left-handed stroke, recognizes pitches, manages the strike zone and utilizes the entire field. He taps into his plus raw power without swinging for the fences and drove the ball with wood bats on the Cape.
Though Wells is a shaky receiver with a below-average arm and elbow problems that began in high school, the Yankees are impressed with the initial work he's done with their instructors remotely. They believe he can add enough polish to stay behind the plate, but scouts outside the organization believe he'll follow the Kyle Schwarber path and wind up in left field or first base. He runs well enough to handle the outfield and could maximize his offensive production at a less demanding position than catcher.”
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.