TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees have been keeping tabs on Austin Wells for years, envisioning how his left-handed stroke could translate to the hitter-friendly dimensions of Yankee Stadium. That could soon become reality, as the organization selected the slugging University of Arizona catcher on Wednesday with the 28th overall selection in the 2020 MLB Draft.
This marked the second time in three years that the Yankees have called Wells' name, having tabbed him in the 35th round out of high school in 2018. Wells opted to honor his collegiate commitment and, after refining his game with the Wildcats, the 20-year-old was rated among the nation's top prospects as he reentered the mix as a Draft-eligible sophomore. He said that he anticipates signing quickly.
“The Yankees and I always had a very good relationship, and leading up to [the Draft], we had a lot of great conversations,” Wells said. “Going throughout that day, I had a good range of where I felt was going in the back half of that first round. I'm super pumped that it was the Yankees, because of how great our relationship had been before."
Ranked as this year's No. 27 Draft prospect by MLB Pipeline, Wells was torching opposing pitching when the coronavirus pandemic halted play in mid-March. He followed a standout Cape Cod League campaign by batting .375/.527/.589 with 12 runs scored, six doubles, two homers and 14 RBIs in 15 games as a sophomore, working more walks (17) than strikeouts (14) while earning Second Team All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball.
“We are very happy to get Austin Wells today,” said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ vice president of domestic amateur scouting. “We thought he was one of the top hit and power combinations in the Draft. 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.”
Honored in 2019 as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year -- the first in Arizona's history -- and the Cape Cod League's Outstanding Pro Prospect after starring with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, Wells impresses with all-fields power that earned him a place on the Buster Posey Award watch list alongside some of the nation's top backstops.
"Austin is a special player, has all the tools to be an impact Major League player, and has an intense desire to help his team win," Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said. "His ability is matched with an elite work ethic and capability to prepare that rivals any player in the country."
Wells, who said that he grew up a Red Sox fan but has already shed those allegiances in favor of the pinstripes, was eligible for this Draft because he will turn 21 within 45 days of the MLB Draft. The No. 28 selection carries a slot value of $2,493,900, and the Yankees' total assigned bonus pool is $3,520,000.
Though Wells was identified as a catcher when the Yankees' selection was announced, it is possible that his future could involve a position switch. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Wells has been compared to the Cubs' Kyle Schwarber, who started his career behind the plate but has played most of his big league career in the outfield.
“I'm a catcher, and I want to be a catcher,” Wells said. “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.”
This past season at Arizona, Wells played 12 games at catcher and once in left field, serving as the designated hitter twice. After permitting 10 passed balls in 262 innings as a freshman, Wells maintained a 1.000 fielding percentage while permitting only one passed ball in 100 innings this year.
It is notable that Wells is listed at almost the same height and weight as the Yankees' current starting catcher, Gary Sánchez.
“I’m definitely continuing to improve every day, even through this tough time that we're going through,” Wells said. “I think that's definitely been one of my main focuses and will continue to be one of my main focuses going forward, especially if I want to get through the Minor Leagues quickly and make an impact on the big league club.”
Ultimately, Wells' bat is what appeals most to the Yanks' scouts. The club selected him in 2018 despite a right elbow injury that prevented him from catching during his senior season at Bishop Gorman High (Nevada) -- a school that counts Rangers All-Star Joey Gallo and 1995 American League Rookie of the Year Marty Cordova among its alumni.
“When the Yankees drafted me out of high school, I had a very good feeling that I was going to college,” Wells said. “I wanted to honor that commitment to go to Arizona and play for coach [Jay] Johnson. It was honestly the best decision that I could have made. I grew as a player, grew as a leader, grew as a person off the field and got bigger, stronger, faster. I developed into the player I am now.”
The Draft continues on Thursday with Rounds 2-5. The Yankees' remaining selections will be in the third round (99th overall) and fourth round (129th overall). The club forfeited its second- and fifth-round picks as compensation for signing free agent right-hander Gerrit Cole.
The MLB Network preview show begins Thursday at 4 p.m. ET, with live coverage on MLB Network and ESPN2 beginning at 5 p.m. Go to MLB.com/Draft for complete coverage, including every pick on the Draft Tracker, coverage and analysis from MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter.