Yanks high on top pick; Kluber 'serious' in BP

February 21st, 2021

When Austin Wells pressed a pen to his first professional contract last summer, the Yankees' first-round selection in the MLB Draft had no plane to board, no Minor League team waiting to scribble his name in the lineup. His instructions were to hang loose and go with the flow.

The 21-year-old is making up for that lost time, showing flashes of why the organization selected him 28th overall. A left-handed-hitting catcher with pop who starred at the University of Arizona, Wells is among the Bombers' prospects making strong impressions early in camp.

"It's definitely a great opportunity, a great experience," Wells said. "It's been great so far in the first couple of days. I'm looking forward to facing all of the pitchers, honestly. I've been out for over a year, doing remote training and everything, so any at-bat against a pitcher that I get is going to be beneficial to me."

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has remarked that Wells seems to have an advanced hitting mindset, peppering coaches with mechanical questions about his swing and the proper approaches to take in the batter's box.

"I’ve had a number of Major League staff members come up to ask for details on this guy,” said Kevin Reese, the Yankees’ senior director of player development. “He smoked a couple of balls in the first live BP today. So far, he’s been really impressive. I can’t imagine being a player during this time, but especially a first-round pick who has to wait a year to get into a game.”

Rated as the Yankees’ No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Wells received a $2.5 million signing bonus after being drafted as a catcher, having also seen time at first base and left field during his college career.

Some scouts have compared him to , who advanced through the Minors as a catcher before moving elsewhere on the diamond. However, Wells is pouring his efforts into improving his defense behind the plate, receiving tutelage on the same strike-stealing adjustments is incorporating.

“The main focus is really just getting comfortable with a one-knee-down stance and working underneath the ball,” Wells said. “It’s really just trying to keep strikes and make those balls that are borderline into strikes. It’s been good to get feedback on that through video with the player development staff, working on receiving and the new positioning of my body when I’m behind the plate.”

‘Klubot’ on line
faced hitters on Sunday, his first live batting practice of camp. The two-time Cy Young Award winner worked with Sánchez behind the plate, seeing Josh Breaux, Rob Brantly and Robinson Chirinos in the box.

“It was good,” Boone said. “He’s come in here having thrown live, and he's even been more strenuous than what today was. I thought he executed a lot of pitches. It was good to get Gary with him in a live setting; another good step forward in the process for him.”

Related

Yankees right-hander said that it has been interesting to train alongside Kluber.

“It was fun throwing bullpens right next to each other, seeing how serious he was with everything,” King said. “Kluber -- he’s the Klubot. Wherever his pitch was, he's the exact same face. We were warming up in the weight room right next to each other. Not a single word was spoken, and I'm kind of a personable guy. It was dead silent. I have not been able to break into him yet, but I promise you I will.”

‘Martian’ mania
The Yankees hope that top prospect Jasson Dominguez will make his professional debut later this spring, with the 18-year-old tentatively set to report to Tampa, Fla., at some point after big league camp concludes.

Reese said the switch-hitting center fielder has been “really impressive” in his workouts -- yet he believes early scouting comparisons to the likes of Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout are unfair.

“Everything that we’ve seen from this kid -- he’s super talented, but he hasn’t played a game here yet,” Reese said. “It’s hard to help him manage those expectations because he’s not going to show up tomorrow and perform like Mike Trout or Aaron Judge or Brett Gardner.

“We’ll keep him working; our goal is to get the best Jasson Dominguez that’s possible. Hopefully, that’s a really good player that helps us win games and win championships.”

Splitsville
Expect to see experiment with his splitter more this spring, a pitch that the left-hander believes can keep hitters guessing. According to Baseball Savant, Chapman used it three times last season out of 199 pitches. He threw mostly four-seam fastballs (72.4 percent) and sliders (21.6 percent), also tossing nine sinkers.

“I believe it’s definitely a pitch for me; I feel that I've incorporated that into my pitch mix,” Chapman said through an interpreter. “I believe I'm going to use it more, unlike the changeup where I used it just a couple of times here and there. I feel really good with it. It’s definitely going to be a weapon to be used in the future.”

He said it
“I thought it was the dumbest name in the world when it first was named the ‘gas station.’ But being in there, it's the coolest place. I live in there.” -- King, on the Yankees’ new high-tech pitching playground

Up next
Position players will report to the Tampa area on Monday, when they will undergo physicals in advance of Tuesday’s first full-squad workout. The Yankees’ pitchers and catchers will continue to work out on Monday at the player development complex. Workouts are closed to the public.