Austin Wells unveils subtle stardom in MLB debut amidst the Martian frenzy

Austin Wells makes his first hit in the Yankees vs. Astros game in Houston on September 1, 2023.
NYY
John Allen
Saturday September 2, 2023

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For the first time in seven years, the Yankees brought in two debutant starters — Jasson Dominguez and Austin Wells — on Friday against the Astros. While the much-hyped “The Martian” hogged the limelight after he launched a home run in his inaugural career at-bat, Austin Wells’ impressive debut in the major leagues went somewhat unnoticed.

It’s conceivable that the aspiring everyday catcher for the Yankees had a promising start on Friday. Austin Wells secured a single in his initial MLB at-bat and finished the night 1-for-4 in the Yankees’ 6-2 victory against the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

During the second inning, Austin Wells faced Justin Verlander, carefully navigating a full count before driving a single into right field. As he reached first base, he took a moment to gather himself and looked up at the stands. There, he saw his entire family – parents, brothers, cousins, and grandparents – enthusiastically celebrating his achievement.

“That was awesome,” said Wells, who later added “unbelievable,” “amazing” and “sick” to describe his day. “I think it’s good to check the box in the first [at-bat], and then after that, I was just out there having fun.”

A dream debut for Austin Wells

The preceding days had been a whirlwind experience for the 24-year-old. Austin Wells received the news, alongside Jasson Dominguez, on Wednesday night, following the Triple-A game in Rochester, that their arduous journeys had finally reached their culmination.

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Austin Wells engaged in a conversation with his father, who admired his haircut. In response, he asked whether it resembled a haircut worthy of the big leagues.

At the plate, Austin Wells displayed the demeanor of a seasoned major leaguer, exemplified by a well-struck 100.9-mph ground ball that led to a double play. Additionally, he exhibited a sense of ease while handling his duties behind the plate, collaborating effectively with Carlos Rodon and three Yankees relievers.

Rodon expressed his perspective, stating that he believed Austin Wells had been quite focused. The Yankees starting pitcher mentioned that he had interacted with the catcher during spring training and a rehab start and noted that Austin Wells didn’t appear to be particularly nervous, which he considered a positive sign.

In 2020, Austin Wells became a first-round pick after the University of Arizona recognized his standout left-handed batting skills, which have largely met the initial expectations.

Known for his strong understanding of the strike zone and his professional approach, Austin Wells initially registered a .770 OPS and hit 11 home runs across 58 games while playing for Double-A Somerset. His performance then improved further as he achieved a higher OPS of .802 in 33 games with the RailRiders.

Ever since Gary Sanchez‘s offensive contributions declined and he was subsequently traded, the Yankees have been missing a catcher who consistently delivers at the plate.

While Austin Wells acknowledges that his defensive abilities are the primary areas of concern, he wholeheartedly sees this opportunity as a chance to demonstrate his capability as a Major League catcher.

Wells is confident and so are the Yankees

Austin Wells asserted that he was here to perform that role as well, mentioning his bushy mustache, and emphasizing his commitment to playing and aiding the team’s success.

“I think I’m here to do that as well,” said Wells, “and then play and help the team win.” 

Austin Wells’ main drawback has been his arm, which managed to catch only 13 percent of base stealers in the minor leagues this season. A similar critique was once directed at Jose Trevino, but he managed to enhance his arm strength while working with the organization.

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Manager Aaron Boone acknowledged that it wasn’t a strong point for Austin Wells. He expressed satisfaction with how the catcher managed the staff on the first day and emphasized that it’s an aspect he should keep improving.

“There’s a lot on his plate,” Boone said. “We feel like he’s equipped to handle it.”

Boone also characterized Austin Wells as “mature” and “intelligent” and had complete confidence that Wells could swiftly establish a strong rapport with the pitching staff. According to him, the debutant will frequently be in the catcher’s role and occasionally take on the role of designated hitter.

This places a significant demand on Austin Wells. He had engaged in a conversation with the media roughly three hours before the initial pitch and subsequently hurried off to make sure he was well-prepared to work with Rodon and the relievers, including Randy Vasquez, Wandy Peralta, and Jonathan Loaisiga, who ultimately came out of the bullpen. All of this was happening while he was also getting ready to face Verlander.

Boone mentioned that there was a substantial workload for Austin Wells. However, he expressed confidence in the catcher’s ability to manage it.

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