Q&A: Yankees' Wells on approach, defense, mustaches

March 7th, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees took Austin Wells in the first round of the 2020 Draft, No. 28 overall, out of the University of Arizona. The catcher, who is ranked the club's No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, had a solid first full season of pro ball, finishing with a .264/.390/.476 line across two levels of Class A ball, capping it off with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League (1.034 OPS in 79 plate appearances).

Jonathan Mayo: The last time we spoke was in the Arizona Fall League. I was impressed with how much you had left in the tank after such a long year. When that finished, did you finally kind of exhale and say, “Whoa, I'm tired.”

Austin Wells: Yeah, it was a long year. But I was able to take off about a week, so that was nice. Nice refresher. And then right back to it, just because I knew I was coming out here in January. So I had to be somewhat ready to go.

Mayo: Are you the kind of guy that doesn't like to sit still for too long? A week was enough?

Wells: A week was perfect. I felt rejuvenated, got to the weight room and just started getting after it again.

Mayo: Let's talk about the Fall League first. How much did that time motivate you? Because you performed really well. Obviously, it's a developmental league, so the numbers are almost secondary, but did that give you the feeling that you were ready to make that springboard (to the upper levels)? How much did that fuel you during this offseason?

Wells: It was a lot of motivation, honestly, to finish strong, go out there and perform and do what I wanted to do and accomplish the things that I went in there to do -- hit the ball harder and improve my catching. So, just building off those things just gave me extra fire to come out here and continue that momentum and just be the best that I can.

Mayo: You entered pro ball with that label of “advanced college hitter.” What does that mean to you?

Wells: I just think it means that I'm able to take my walks and hit the ball to all parts of the field on any pitch, not just a dead-red fastball hitter; not just a power home-run hitter. So being able to have an approach to all fields, I think that kind of defines, in my head, what an advanced kind of hitter is able to do on the field.

Mayo: How much of that helps you as you move up a level or then go to the Fall League, and you're facing a higher level of pitching, that sort of feel for the strike zone, being able to recognize stuff? Does that become more important when guys’ stuff increases?

Wells: I think it was honestly even better facing guys who were more in the zone because there were way less misses. And you were able to focus on a smaller, tighter zone that you can do damage on with your pitch. So I felt that throughout the whole year, the higher the levels, almost, the easier it was for me to stay in the zone and really just get my swing off. And catching is the same way, like catching better arms, who were better in the zone. I feel like my catching got better as I went higher, too.

Mayo: Well, you set me up for my next question. I want to talk about your defense. There were people who were like, “Well, we'll see whether you stick behind the plate.” How much, when you hear that sort of criticism, fair or not, does that fuel you to keep getting better? How much do you want to prove to everyone that you can catch?

Wells: First of all, it's just something that I've always wanted to do on my own. I just have a deep desire to be a catcher, to be a catcher for the Yankees. So that already has me at a high level of work, just trying to reach that goal. And then ever since I was in high school, people saying the same thing just continually makes me want to get better and better and better and just silence the noise, basically.

Mayo: The Yankees have a lot of big arms, guys who took some big steps forward last year, showing up early here and throwing maybe even a little harder. Who are some of the guys that you've caught even just in bullpens who have stood out to you?

Wells: There's a lot of guys who have increased velocity. Matt Sauer, he worked on a slider that was just a totally different pitch now, a totally sweeping pitch, so he's one who really stuck out. And then we got the guys like Ken Waldichuk, who was nasty. They all just come in and they have their stuff and they've increased velocity every year and have been better in the zone.

Mayo: The last question is, a lot of people think mustaches are terrible. Please defend the mustache.

Wells: Hey, if you can rock it, I think you should rock it. I've been told that it's a good look so I'm going to continue to rock with it. It's got some homers in it, too. So that plays, too.