Improvement behind plate has Wells pushing for roster spot

March 8th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- The stadium lights flickered as rounded the bases after his first Grapefruit League home run on Thursday evening, having powered a line drive into the standing-room section just beyond the right-field wall at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Wells’ three-RBI performance in the Yankees’ 11-5 loss to the Tigers was an encouraging sign, coming as the 24-year-old has been working with coaches on his routine after a slow start. Yet, the Bombers are far more excited about what Wells has been doing behind the plate.

“He’s caught way better than he’s swung the bat to this point,” manager Aaron Boone said prior to his team's 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday at TD Ballpark. “I’ve been so impressed with how good of a catcher I think he’s becoming. Can he catch? There’s no doubt in my mind he can, and not only that, I think he’s good.”

Those rave reviews come as Wells -- the Yankees’ No. 5 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- continues to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Wells has benefited from additional reps as Jose Trevino progresses from a left calf strain sustained while preparing for Spring Training; Trevino is scheduled to play in his first Grapefruit League game on Sunday against the Braves.

Someone will be sharing time behind the plate with Trevino, a 2022 Platinum Glove Award winner, and the Yankees are strongly considering carrying Wells. Wells’ main competition is 26-year-old Ben Rortvedt, who has hit .146 in 157 big league at-bats and is out of Minor League options.

“We’re sitting here with a lot of high-end catching,” Boone said.

Wells got his first taste of the big leagues last September, when he batted .229 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 19 games.

The Yanks’ first-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, Wells’ potent left-handed bat has helped him surge through the farm system, though he has been trailed by the possibility of a looming position switch.

There is no more chatter about Wells trying first base or left field, not when his receiving, blocking and game-calling have been so strong.

“I think getting to work with a lot of the starters so far and a lot of our relievers is just kind of what I wanted to do,” Wells said. "The more that I’m catching them, the better the relationship and the better feel that we have for each other, the trust to throw the pitch when needed.

"I think we’re a little over halfway [through spring], but it feels like everything’s going really well behind the plate.”

One blemish on Wells’ game is his throwing; catching 158 innings in the Majors last year, he permitted 17 steals in 20 attempts. Boone said that he believes Wells’ ability to shut down the running game has “improved drastically” this spring.

“In September, he was better than I anticipated,” Boone said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, he could do this.’ Now, I’m to the point where I’m confident he’s good at it.”

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has enjoyed working with Wells; though Rortvedt caught Cole’s final 13 starts of the season last year, Cole was paired with Wells for his Grapefruit League start on March 1 against the Blue Jays. Cole said that Wells has been a better defender than advertised.

“He’s kind of come up and I never saw him bad,” Cole said. “Right away, his game-calling was exceptional. He came right in against the Astros, we won a series in Houston and he caught all the games. He’s obviously really intelligent and physically looks solid; a good catcher.”

Boone said it is too early to determine what the catching breakdown might look like if Wells is on the Opening Day roster.

“If he’s on the team, he’s going to play a lot,” Boone said. “I don’t know if that’s two out of five, three out of five, however you want to make it. We’ll see. Whoever shares the position initially and over time with Trevi, they’re going to split it anyway.”

That’s an exciting prospect for Wells, who said he is trying not to think too much about the possibilities ahead.

“The only thing I can do is go out and play,” Wells said. “That’s my focus, is to try to put the best foot forward to help the team win, every time I’m in the lineup.”