Skipper all in on Austin Wells handling Gerrit Cole battery duty from Day 1

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Spring training is heating up, and one of the most intriguing storylines for the Yankees revolves around catcher Austin Wells. With veteran Jose Trevino seemingly locked in as the starting backstop, and several other catchers vying for playing time, the 24-year-old faces a potential hurdle: securing a roster spot on Opening Day.

Whispers of a position change have emerged, suggesting Austin Wells could utilize his offensive prowess at another position, alleviating the logjam behind the plate. This proposal even reached manager Aaron Boone’s ears after Sunday’s practice. However, Boone was unequivocal in his response: the organization’s focus remains firmly on developing Wells’ catching skills.

Boone mentioned that Austin Wells has made significant progress defensively as a catcher and has also showcased offensive skills. He acknowledged the catcher’s familiarity with the team’s pitching staff and highlighted the strides he made after being called up last year. Boone emphasized that, at the moment, they prefer not to burden him with additional responsibilities.

New York Yankees prospect Austin Wells
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Boone further commented that Austin Wells possesses the athleticism to handle various roles, hinting that versatility could be an option in the future. However, he emphasized the current priority for the rookie catcher to concentrate on familiarizing himself with the team’s pitching staff and improving his skills as a catcher.

Austin Wells set for Cole duty

Last September, Austin Wells earned a taste of the big leagues alongside fellow prospect Jasson Domínguez. While his bat initially sputtered, he finished strong, launching three home runs in his final five games and posting a respectable .229 average and .486 slugging percentage.

But for Austin Wells, securing a coveted Opening Day roster spot hinges on more than just hitting. His true test lies behind the plate, specifically in his ability to handle the demanding New York Yankees pitching staff, particularly ace Gerrit Cole.

Cole, known for his preferences, initially entrusted only Jose Trevino with receiving his pitches. After Trevino’s injury, Ben Rortvedt stepped in. Now, with just two catchers currently on the roster, the door remains open for one more.

For Up To Opening Cole Task, the key lies in building trust with Cole and the other starters. Manager Aaron Boone specifically emphasized this during his first practice session, hinting at the crucial role this plays in the young catcher’s future.

Boone mentioned that it was Austin Wells’ inaugural experience catching a bullpen session with Cole. He expressed intentions to also provide Wells with game-time opportunities alongside Cole. Boone acknowledged Carlos Narvaez‘s extensive experience catching Cole during the previous spring and the subsequent season. With Trevino expected to miss the initial weeks of games due to injury, Boone plans to rotate catchers during early spring training sessions to allow everyone to gain familiarity. Austin Wells began this rotation, catching Cole’s bullpen session.

With Aaron Boone confirming Jose Trevino’s calf injury will sideline him for a few weeks, an unexpected spotlight shines on young catcher Austin Wells. This unforeseen development throws the Opening Day catching picture into flux, creating a golden opportunity for Wells and other contenders to showcase their abilities.

Boone himself acknowledged Austin Wells’ strong position in the competition. Having worked hard throughout the winter and demonstrating a dedicated approach to spring training – unlike last year’s absence due to injury – Wells has placed himself squarely in the conversation for a roster spot.

However, talk is cheap. The real test comes this Saturday, February 24th, when the Yankees face the Detroit Tigers in their first spring training game. This represents a crucial stage for Austin Wells to make his case, demonstrate his development, and prove he’s ready to handle the demands of the major leagues.

Cole is impressed by Austin Wells: Can the youngster handle the heat?

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Gerrit Cole, the Yankees’ ace and six-time All-Star, has his eye on rookie catcher Austin Wells. Following a recent bullpen session, Cole spoke to the Daily News, his praise ringing loud and clear. He lauded Austin Wells’ composure, attention to detail, and strong game-calling abilities, adding, “He’s undoubtedly a bright individual.”

But the real test lies ahead. Cole revealed that Austin Wells will get the chance to catch him in an actual game during spring training, an opportunity presented by Trevino’s calf injury that has him sidelined for the initial exhibition matches. This is Austin Wells’ moment to shine, alongside other contenders vying for a roster spot.

However, catching Cole isn’t for the faint of heart. Rortvedt, who filled in after Trevino’s wrist surgery last season, can attest to the demands. Cole’s known for being vocal and exacting, expecting the best from his backstop. But, as Cole emphasizes, these tough interactions are part of the game. Just like any coach pushing their players to excel, Cole pushes his catchers to be their best, aiming for that perfect harmony on the mound.

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“When he sees something, he lets you know, which is awesome,” Rortvedt said last season. “That’s all you can ask for, is transparency. I’ve learned so much about pitching from him.”

“When you have conviction behind what you’re thinking and what you’re throwing, it just kind of comes out in that way. It’s all out of love. It’s all good.”

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone highlighted the unique challenge of catching Gerrit Cole, whose meticulous style requires absolute focus and constant communication from his backstop. “He demands your attention all week long,” Boone emphasized, setting the stage for a crucial test for young catcher Austin Wells.

Boone lauded Austin Wells’ defensive progress, echoing previous compliments and solidifying the expectation that he’ll likely serve as Trevino’s backup or share catching duties this season. However, while Wells’ offensive potential and athleticism could lead to expanded roles, Boone insists there are no plans to experiment with him at other positions like first base or the corner outfield.

The manager mentioned that versatility could be a consideration in the future, potentially enhancing the team’s options. However, for the time being, he emphasized the importance of Wells concentrating solely on familiarizing himself with the pitching staff and his role as a catcher.

Austin Wells determined to silence doubts

Yankees catcher Austin Wells enters the 2024 season with a chip on his shoulder. While his brief debut in 2023 showcased flashes of brilliance, his role alongside veteran Jose Trevino remains uncertain. The presence of Ben Rortvedt, who impressed defensively last year, particularly with ace Gerrit Cole, adds another layer of competition, especially considering Rortvedt’s lack of minor league options.

However, the 24-year-old Austin Wells is far from discouraged. He views the challenges of his rookie year not as roadblocks, but as stepping stones on his journey to establish himself. He’s determined to learn from his experiences, refine his skills, and prove his doubters wrong.

Austin Wells expressed that he had integrated the confidence gained from last year’s successes and learning experiences into his offseason regimen. He mentioned that his time in the majors had bolstered his confidence moving forward into the upcoming season, despite still being considered a rookie.

Aaron Boone expressed anticipation about witnessing the potential of Austin Wells and what he could accomplish. The manager noted that the catcher has been making significant progress throughout the winter, positioning himself to contend for a spot on the big-league roster. Additionally, he expressed confidence that Austin Wells will continue to improve offensively over time.

Yankees catcher Austin Wells alights from a bus at Tampa training Complex in 2023.
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Austin Wells is off to a better start compared to last year. During the initial day of spring training in 2023, he experienced what appeared to be a right oblique injury. However, subsequent MRI scans revealed a fracture in his 12th rib. This injury sidelined him for the entirety of spring training and delayed his return to games until late April.

“It’s cool to be out here this time,” he said.

While the Yankees floundered to a fourth-place finish in the AL East, a glimmer of hope emerged in Austin Wells. The young catcher, rising from Double-A to Triple-A mid-season, racked up an impressive .802 OPS in 33 games before earning a late-season call-up alongside fellow prospect Jasson Domínguez.

His debut, however, was a rollercoaster ride. After a sluggish start (3-for-29, .103), Wells found his groove, going 13-for-41 (.317) in his final 11 games. He finished the season with a respectable .229 average, 4 home runs, and 13 RBI, showcasing offensive potential.

But questions still linger about his defense. Concerns around his arm strength and blocking abilities, prevalent since college, haven’t dissipated. Stats from last year paint a mixed picture: he ranked 60th in blocks above average and tied for 39th in catcher framing runs, while managing only 3 caught stealers in 20 attempts.

However, there are bright spots. Austin Wells boasted a promising pop time (1.91 seconds, 15th overall) and respectable arm strength (80.6 mph, 28th overall) last season, and he enters spring training confident in his throwing arm.

He expressed that there had been a significant emphasis on throwing and he felt he was in a good position with his arm, noting that it was the best it had felt and the strongest it had been. Austin Wells expressed anticipation to see how it would translate to a game.

Austin Wells grinds in Tampa sunshine

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Austin Wells isn’t just reporting for spring training; he’s been living it since November. While many players were enjoying their off-season, Wells set up camp in Tampa, dedicating himself to the Yankees’ player development complex. His laser focus is fueled by a desire to silence doubters and cement his place behind the plate.

The key to his defensive improvement? Learning from the best. Minor league coaches Aaron Bossi and Aaron Gershenfeld served as his wintertime mentors, helping him refine his blocking, framing, and throwing mechanics. Offense wasn’t neglected either. Austin Wells honed his pitch selection, aiming to unleash his powerful swing on Yankee Stadium’s notoriously short right-field porch. The Yankees are salivating at the prospect, dreaming of the damage he could do.

Manager Aaron Boone sees the dedication paying off. He acknowledges that Austin Wells has put himself in a strong position to achieve his goals. But talk is cheap; spring training is where dreams are tested. Can he translate his winter workouts into on-field success? Can he overcome lingering defensive concerns and showcase his offensive prowess? The pressure is on, but the stage is set for him to shine.

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