Wells powers Surprise to AFL title game

November 19th, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. – On the final day of the Arizona Fall League regular season, all three teams in the West Division had at least a small chance to advance to Saturday’s championship game. The path for the Surprise Saguaros was the simplest: Beat the Glendale Desert Dogs on Friday afternoon at home and advance to play against the East Champion Mesa Solar Sox.

Down 3-0 early, the Saguaros rallied to score two in the fourth, two in the fifth and one in the sixth to win, 5-3, and extend their stay in the desert one more day. And judging by the celebration, this was clearly more than just a low-key AFL contest.

“It means a lot,” said Yankees catcher Austin Wells, who went 3-for-3 including a big two-run homer to put Surprise on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning. “Everyone comes here to develop or whatever they say. But all of our guys on the team are winners, and we came here to win. Coming out 13-3 like we did, then hitting a little spell and then being able to get in the championship game means a lot.”

The Saguaros were not able to get much going against Angels right-hander Coleman Crow over the first three innings. The youngest pitcher in the AFL at 20, Crow kept the Surprise lineup off-balance and put up zeroes over the first three innings while his teammates were able to score three in the third off right-hander Owen White (Rangers No. 28), who has been the best pitcher in the league all fall. In the fourth, Royals outfielder Nathan Eaton reached on an error, and one out later Wells crushed the first pitch he saw over the right-center field fence to make it a one-run game.

“I had two coaches tell me I was going to get a first-pitch changeup,” the Yankees' sixth-ranked prospect said. “And I did. I got to put a good swing on it. It was in the zone.”

Crow ended up going four solid innings, allowing the two runs (one earned) on four hits, walking none and striking out three. He induced six groundball outs over those four innings to finish with a 1.59 ERA. Meanwhile, White didn’t have his best stuff on Friday, struggling a bit with his command both in and out of the zone, allowing nine hits and two walks.

But the sign of a good pitcher is often how he fares without his best stuff, and outside of that three-run third, he kept the game close by going five, striking out six along the way. That was enough for the Saguaros to claw their way back, something they’ve done several times this season.

“We came back a lot during this short 30-game season, so nobody was out. Nobody was down,” Wells said. “We were we were poised and ready to make an attack. We just had to get it going.

“We were here to win. We came out, Owen threw a great game, and then the offense picked it up at the end, and we got the job done.”

Wells kickstarted it and the Saguaros were able to push two more across in the fifth. Catcher Drew Millas (Nationals No. 20) led off the frame against Dodgers right-hander Kyle Hurt with a walk and advanced to third on a double from infielder Ezequiel Duran (Rangers No. 7). Shortstop Jackson Cluff (Nationals No. 19) tied the game on a sacrifice fly and Duran, who moved to third on that out, came home on a sac fly from Eaton to give Surprise its first lead of the game.

The Saguaros added an insurance run in the sixth when Wells led off with a single and scored on a base hit by Millas. Nationals reliever Todd Peterson came in and struck out two, including getting Juan Yepez (Cardinals No. 26) to end the game, to pick up the save.

Wells’ big day is a continuation of a very productive fall. The 2020 first-round pick finished the regular season here with a .344/.456/.578 line with a pair of homers and 18 RBIs. It’s proven to be a solid cap to a strong first full season of pro ball (.867 OPS across two levels of A ball).

“I just tried to keep the momentum from the end of the season till here,” said Wells, who has hit in five straight. “I’ve been trying to slow everything down and actually see pitches, be able to adjust to pitches. I did today. All my hits were off offspeed, so I was able to adjust off the fastball and hit the offspeed.”

Surprise is slated to host Mesa in the title game Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (5 p.m. MT) on MLB Network, streaming on MLB.com and in the MLB app.