Austin Wells is ‘thrown into the fire’ but emerges unscathed, stronger

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Yankees rookie catcher Austin Wells boldly confronted the challenge of crafting and implementing a game plan for three different starting pitchers in his initial three games as a major league catcher.

In the ninth inning of Saturday’s game, with the Yankees holding onto a precarious 5-4 lead, Clay Holmes was summoned from the bullpen. It was a situation not entirely mapped out in advance. Austin Wells had not previously caught Holmes, known for his formidable sinker. Yet, with poise, he managed a steady stream of these pitches, culminating in a called third strike that sealed the victory.

Catching coach Tanner Swanson praised Austin Wells’ ability to adapt quickly and perform excellently in a high-pressure, challenging environment.

“Kind of thrown into the fire and a high-leverage situation and a hostile environment and made it look pretty easy,” commended Swanson.

Austin Wells turns to tech to improve his catching

In many aspects, Austin Wells had been gearing up to handle Holmes’ sinker, along with other unique pitches from the Yankees’ pitchers, even before this weekend, despite being miles away from them.

This season at the Triple-A RailRiders, a cutting-edge pitching machine was introduced. It has the capability to display any pitcher on a screen and mimic the shapes of their pitches. While primarily a valuable tool for hitters, Austin Wells took advantage of it to enhance his defensive preparations before his promotion to the major leagues.

According to Swanson, Austin Wells had been really adamant about asking what he could do to prepare better for that moment, whenever it arrived. He mentioned that it was never the exact same, but he believed it had certainly closed the gap in terms of the adjustment period. When Austin Wells caught his very first sinker from Holmes, he had remarked, “Oh, okay, this isn’t completely foreign to me. I’ve seen this before.”

Austin Wells’ handling of Holmes’ unpredictable sinkers left a strong impression on more than just Swanson.

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Michael King remarked that every time he observed someone catching Clay Holmes for the first time, and Holmes seemed to struggle with his sinker, he would wonder, “What is going on?” However, he explained that Austin Wells was exceptionally skilled in handling the staff and knew how to call a really good game.

King, Carlos Rodon, and Luis Severino all had positive things to say about Austin Wells after pitching with him during the three-game sweep of the Astros.

Austin Wells was happy to admit that having the pitchers trust him right from the start was a big boost to his confidence. He also mentioned that he threw out the only runner who attempted to steal a base against him over the weekend on Sunday night.

Austin Wells navigates MLB transition with elan

The transition to the majors is a significant challenge for any rookie, but it becomes even more intricate when you’re a catcher. The Yankees aimed to make this transition as smooth as they could by replicating various aspects of the experience in Triple-A, ranging from advanced processes to ensuring that the configuration of PitchCom devices closely matched.

Thanks to this preparation, Austin Wells passed his first major test with flying colors, becoming the first Yankees catcher this season to start all three games of a series.

Austin Wells’ first weekend in the major leagues showcased both his overt strengths and subtler skills. While his powerful double on Sunday, which secured his second career RBI, and his precise throw to second base demonstrated his evident abilities, the less conspicuous talents caught the attention of pitchers. These qualities, although not immediately noticeable to spectators, certainly did not escape the notice of the Yankees’ hurlers.

In the sweep of the Astros, which concluded with a 6-1 victory at Minute Maid Park on Sunday night, Austin Wells made strides in validating his abilities. Since his call-up on Friday, the rookie Yankees catcher garnered praise from each of the starting pitchers in every game. However, none were as effusive in their compliments as Michael King.

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Despite their lack of prior collaboration, Austin Wells displayed a thorough understanding of King’s pitching repertoire, enabling him to make swift adjustments during the game.

Austin Wells faced an early challenge. In the first inning, with runners on the corners and just one out, he decided to call for a front-door sinker from Michael King. This type of pitch typically starts near the hip of a left-handed hitter before curving and reaching the inside corner of the plate.

In the initial setup, Austin Wells positioned himself inside for Kyle Tucker, but the pitch veered slightly too far across the plate. This allowed Tucker to hit a sacrifice fly, resulting in the Astros’ only run of the game. Recognizing King’s preference for a deep inside setup to ensure any deviation remains inside, Wells adjusted his glove’s target location accordingly for the next sinker call.

King commented that the quick adjustments Austin Wells could make, as evidenced by his five-inning performance with just one run allowed, made him a phenomenal player in his opinion.

Austin Wells provides Yankees with a unique edge

Austin Wells, a 2020 first-round draft pick, was known for his hitting abilities and had consistently performed well throughout his minor league journey. He demonstrated his left-handed power with his first extra-base hit, a double to right-center field in the ninth inning.

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Upon his call-up, there were some concerns about his throwing arm, concerns that he aimed to address promptly. In the previous two games against the Astros, there were no attempts at stealing bases. However, when Mauricio Dubon tried to steal second base on Sunday, Austin Wells received the pitch and promptly unleashed a well-placed throw to Gleyber Torres, resulting in a successful tag for the out.

Austin Wells glanced at the dugout and expressed his satisfaction, nodding his head affirmingly.

“That was impressive,” Austin Wells remarked. In the minor leagues this season, he had only managed to throw out 13 percent of base runners.

As the Yankees have consistently demonstrated with every catcher following Gary Sanchez, they place a higher emphasis on the intangible qualities a catcher brings to the game. It’s crucial that their pitchers have confidence in their catcher’s ability to manage the game and decipher the opposing batters’ swings.

Manager Aaron Boone commended Austin Wells, stating that he has performed exceptionally well with their pitching staff. While it’s only been one weekend, it has left the Yankees and their pitchers feeling optimistic about a young player who could be part of their future.

Even if Austin Wells substantiates his hitting prowess, his mental acumen and defensive skills will also need to be top-notch. He seems to be well aware of this requirement.

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