C prospect Wells impressing in Yanks camp

March 9th, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. -- Austin Wells will always remember his first at-bat of Spring Training, which also happened to be his first plate appearance in a professional uniform. With no Minor League games to play last season, the Yankees’ first-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft had to wait longer than anticipated for an opportunity to step into the batter’s box.

Facing the Tigers on March 1, the 21-year-old catcher showed a flash of why scouts are so excited about the University of Arizona product, stroking a ground-ball single into center field. It was, the organization believes, the first of many hits in a Yankees uniform for Wells -- the club’s No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline’s latest rankings.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” Wells said. “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.”

Boasting one of the most complete offensive profiles in last year’s Draft, the left-handed-hitting Wells joins a talented top of a Bombers farm system paced by No. 1 prospect Jasson Dominguez, a switch-hitting center fielder who has drawn comparisons with Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout.

Right-hander Clarke Schmidt (No. 2) and Deivi García (No. 3) both saw big league time in 2020, and shortstop Oswald Peraza (No. 4) and right-hander Luis Gil (No. 5) have been on the diamond with the Major League club this spring. Wells has made an impression on the coaching staff, which was buzzing about the new kid lashing batting practice line drives early in camp.

“He can hit; we really like his swing,” said manager Aaron Boone. “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.”

Kevin Reese, the Yankees’ senior director of player development, fielded inquiries from several members of Boone’s coaching staff seeking a scouting report on Wells.

“So far he’s been really impressive,” Reese said. “I think what’s been impressive, too, is just throughout this downtime -- I can’t imagine being a player during this time, especially a first-round pick who has to wait a year to get into a game -- he’s been a total pro; communicating really well with our hitting, catching, nutrition, strength and conditioning staff.”

Wells has drawn comparisons with the Nationals’ Kyle Schwarber, who was drafted as a catcher and shifted elsewhere as a pro; Wells said that his preference is to remain behind the plate. The Yankees are impressed with the initial work he did with their instructors, embracing a program organized by catching coordinator Aaron Gershenfeld that includes the same one-knee-down style that Gary Sánchez is using.

“Austin has been the gold standard in terms of his commitment to some of the initiatives we’ve put in place,” said Tanner Swanson, the Yankees’ catching coach. “Austin really dove into that headfirst, and I think we’ve seen tremendous strides since we acquired him. 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.”

Wells believes there is great value in having his first professional experience take place in Major League camp.

“There’s a ton of great hitters here, and it’s just an amazing environment to be around for a hitter,” said Wells, who listed DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge among those he is watching closely. “I want to be able to pick their brains and have conversations with them, because they’re the best in the game. It’s my first time here, so being here is going to give me an advantage going forward.”