Austin Wells continues to impress Yankees, likely to overtake Trevino as No. 1

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Yankees’ top prospect Austin Wells endured a rough start to his spring training at the plate. His first six games were marked by struggles, raising some concerns. However, he silenced the doubters with a breakout performance in his seventh appearance. Austin Wells went 2-for-3, showcasing his hitting potential with a booming double and a solo home run across six innings of work. He even added a stolen base to his impressive stat line.

Drafted by the Yankees in the first round for his left-handed hitting prowess, there were initial questions about Austin Wells’ ability to stick behind the plate. Scouts expressed concerns about his raw catching skills, suggesting a potential move to first base, left field, or even designated hitter.

Despite his reputation as a bat-first prospect throughout his minor league career, Austin Wells pleasantly surprised manager Aaron Boone with his defensive performance during his September call-up last season. He displayed far better defensive skills than anticipated, exceeding expectations and leaving a positive impression on Boone. This recent offensive surge coupled with his improved defensive showing strengthens Austin Wells’ case for a potential role with the Yankees in the upcoming season.

Boone is surprised at the backstop’s progress and happy to say that he has been thoroughly impressed with the strides Austin Wells has made in his catching skills. It all indicate a growing confidence in his abilities behind the plate.

Yankees rookie catcher Austin Wells at Tampa spring training camp in Feb 2024.
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Boone addressed the longstanding question regarding Wells’ ability to catch, expressing his confidence in Austin Wells’ capabilities, highlighting his proficiency in receiving, blocking, and throwing. Additionally, he mentioned that the backstop possesses the necessary skills for other aspects crucial to catching, indicating his optimism about Austin Wells’ overall performance behind the plate.

“I think he’s a really good catcher,” a happy Yankees manager said. “I’ve been so impressed with how good of a catcher I think he’s becoming.

“That’s always been [the question], right, can he catch? There’s no doubt in my mind he can — and not only that, I think he’s good. His skillset now — receiving, blocking, throwing — is all good. And the other stuff that’s an important part of the catching, I think he’s got. And I think he’s gonna hit.”

Soon after Boone elaborated on his receiving skills, it became evident that Austin Wells was strongly positioned to surpass Ben Rortvedt for the Yankees’ vacant spot thanks to his power on the plate on Friday. However, Boone hinted at the possibility of him receiving more playing time than Jose Trevino, a former All-Star and Gold Glove recipient in 2022.

Boone mentioned, “If he’s on the team, he’s going to play a lot. I don’t know if that’s two out of five, three out of five. However, you want to make it … we’ll see.”

While Aaron Boone’s suggestion that Austin Wells could potentially start three out of every five games is an intriguing possibility, it highlights an ongoing question about his catching abilities, particularly his throwing arm.

Despite his offensive breakout, there’s a caveat. During his short stint with the Yankees last season, baserunners successfully stole 17 bases in 20 attempts against Austin Wells over 158 innings behind the plate. This translates to a concerning 85% stolen base success rate. Looking at his minor league numbers, the picture isn’t much better. In 567.1 innings caught, baserunners were able to steal 101 bases in 116 attempts (an 87% success rate).

These numbers suggest that Austin Wells’ defensive development, especially his throwing accuracy and pop time, will be a crucial factor in determining his playing time behind the plate. If he can improve his throwing arm and reduce the stolen base rate, Boone’s optimistic projection of three out of five games might become a reality.

Nevertheless, Austin Wells potentially starting in three out of every five Yankees games would mean he would receive the majority of playing time in an asymmetrical catching arrangement with Trevino.

“I feel like whoever shares the position initially and over time with Trevy is going to split it anyway,” Boone said. “We’re going to do what we think is best to win.”

Austin Wells reemerging from offseason grind

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While Austin Wells’ throwing accuracy might raise questions about his starting role, it’s important to consider his unwavering dedication to becoming a well-rounded catcher. His passion for the position is undeniable, and he’s been putting in the extra work to address his limitations behind the plate.

This dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed. This spring, Gerrit Cole, the Yankees’ ace pitcher, has been particularly impressed with Austin Wells’ performance during bullpen sessions, live batting practices, and even his first Grapefruit League appearance.

Furthermore, Austin Wells’ commitment extends beyond mechanics. Strike up a conversation with him about catching, and his passion for building relationships with each Yankees pitcher becomes readily apparent. He actively seeks to understand their individual strengths and weaknesses, aiming to become an extension of the coaching staff behind the plate and effectively manage the game. This dedication to communication and game management could potentially compensate for his developing throwing arm, making Austin Wells a valuable asset on the field.

Austin Wells also acknowledged that working with numerous starters and relievers has been beneficial. According to him, the more he catches them, the stronger the rapport and understanding between them becomes.

“Getting to work with a lot of the starters so far and a lot of our relievers, too … the more I’m catching them, the better relationship and the better feel we have for each other,” he said.

While questions linger about Austin Wells’ throwing arm, his offensive potential makes a strong case for increased playing time behind the plate, especially if Boone’s assessment of his defensive improvement is accurate.

Last season, Austin Wells displayed his offensive prowess throughout the minor leagues, slashing .240 with a whopping 17 home runs and 72 RBIs across 96 games spanning three levels. This power-hitting ability translated to the majors as well. Despite a modest .229 batting average in his 19 big-league appearances, he managed to contribute four home runs and 13 RBIs.

Boone clearly recognizes Austin Wells’ hitting potential, confidently stating, “He’s going to hit.” This offensive firepower is a significant asset for the Yankees.

Beyond his hitting, Austin Wells is also a threat on the basepaths. In the minor leagues, he displayed impressive baserunning instincts, successfully stealing 55 bases while only getting caught once. This success extends back to his college days, where he stole seven bases in seven attempts over two seasons at Arizona.

Recently, in a game against the Tigers, Austin Wells provided a glimpse of his base-stealing prowess. Following a two-run double in the first inning off Tigers starter John Flaherty, he swiped third base, showcasing his well-rounded offensive skillset.

Combining his offensive capabilities with his improving defensive skills, Austin Wells presents an intriguing option for the Yankees. If he can continue to refine his throwing arm, he could potentially see himself starting three out of five games as Boone suggested, providing a valuable offensive weapon behind the plate.

Boone commented that Austin Wells is a proficient baserunner and highlighted the quality of his stolen base, noting that it was a challenging one to execute. He further stated that it was a good job by the catcher, considering the circumstances, and praised his ability to get a good jump despite being a left-handed hitter.

What caught Boone’s attention the most wasn’t Austin Wells’ home run, double, or stolen base. The manager reiterated that he found Austin Wells’ receiving skills to be impressive, noting that he is now blocking the ball effectively. Additionally, he noted his intelligence and confidence in handling pitchers while expressing excitement about his progress as a backstop.

Yankees catching competition between Trevino and Austin Wells

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Both Boone and catching director Tanner Swanson believe the 24-year-old Wells has demonstrably improved his catching skills since September. Austin Wells himself echoes this sentiment, acknowledging a noticeable difference in his abilities behind the plate.

He mentioned about feeling more comfortable and in control, attributing it to the presence of a strong pitching staff capable of hitting spots accurately, which has been a significant help for him.

Rather than taking the winter for relaxation and recuperation, Austin Wells opted to utilize it for improvement, showing up in Tampa as early as November to resume training. Swanson noted that the catcher has shown improvement in each offseason, but emphasized that the progress made this year is the most significant leap he has seen from him so far.

Toward the conclusion of the previous season, following Austin Wells’ initial 19-game stint in the major leagues, the Yankees urged him to prioritize enhancing his positional consistency and adopting a more precise approach to blocking behind the plate.

According to Swanson, Austin Wells has significantly improved in controlling the ball’s direction upon impact, not merely relying on positioning but actively directing it to limit further advancement.

Yankees catcher Ben Rortvedt is at the Yankees-Twins game on Feb 27, 2024.
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The Yankees are keeping their cards close to their chest regarding the backup catcher competition between Austin Wells and Rortvedt. This strategic move makes sense, as a decision in Wells’ favor would have significant roster ramifications.

Since Rortvedt has exhausted his minor league options, if he doesn’t win the backup role, he would need to be designated for assignment. This designation could lead to three potential outcomes for Rortvedt: being traded to another team, becoming a free agent, or – if he clears waivers – remaining with the Yankees organization as a non-roster player at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Despite the high stakes for their individual careers, the 24-year-old Austin Wells and the 26-year-old Rortvedt have managed to maintain their friendship. Their bond is evident in their decision to spend the winter training together in Tampa, enjoying off-field activities like dinners with their girlfriends. This camaraderie highlights that while they’re competing for the same position, they hold mutual respect and support for each other’s aspirations.

While his spring training batting average initially lagged, Austin Wells didn’t let that hinder his overall performance. He focused on consistently delivering in other key aspects of his game.

If Austin Wells can demonstrate consistent excellence in all the areas the Yankees value for a catcher — game calling and presence in addition to his arm strength — he has a strong chance of earning a more prominent role behind the plate this season. His well-rounded performance throughout spring training has strengthened his case, making the backup catcher competition with Kyle Rortvedt even more intriguing.

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One thought on “Austin Wells continues to impress Yankees, likely to overtake Trevino as No. 1

  1. Wells needs to be the catcher up here. now we need to see, starting tomorrow, just how healthy is Trevino. With Peraza out of the mix if being a bench player to start the season, do they need initially to carry a 3rd catcher, for at least the first week or so? I still say, eventually DFA Rortvedt, and don’t outright him to SWB if he clears waivers. Just let him go.

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