Spring Training spotlight: Austin Wells vies for starting role, but faces roster hurdles


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As spring training unfolds in Tampa, Austin Wells finds himself in a promising position. The Yankees’ mustachioed catcher, known for his potent bat, stands at the cusp of regular playing time following an impressive stint in the minor leagues and a notable MLB debut last fall. With Kyle Higashioka, the former incumbent catcher, traded to San Diego during the offseason, Wells appears primed for a significant role behind the plate.

Yankees juggle options

Yankees rookie catcher Austin Wells at Tampa spring training camp in Feb 2024.

Yet, amidst this optimism looms a familiar challenge faced by many Yankees catchers before him: roster options. Despite his talent, Austin Wells, having been added to the 40-man roster only last September, remains susceptible to being sent down to the minors without passing through waivers. This predicament mirrors the trajectories of past catchers like Higashioka and Austin Romine, who shuttled between Triple-A and the majors based on team needs.

While Austin Wells surpasses his predecessors in potential, the Yankees historically prioritize depth, a stance epitomized by the presence of Ben Rortvedt. Despite Higashioka’s departure, competition for playing time remains fierce. Rortvedt, having graduated from a minor-league reserve role, earned praise for his chemistry with Gerrit Cole, albeit struggling at the plate last season.

The defensive prowess of catchers holds paramount importance for the Yankees, evidenced by their recruitment of Tanner Swanson and emphasis on elite framing and pitch calling. Jose Trevino and Rortvedt boast impressive defensive records, with Swanson lauding Rortvedt’s dynamic abilities. In contrast, Austin Wells’ defensive capabilities remain a point of contention, underscored by his negative Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) rating.

Spring injuries could sway the Yankees’ decisions, with Trevino sidelined initially, leaving room for deliberation. Additional catching options like Luis Torrens and Josh Breaux add complexity to the roster puzzle, each presenting unique strengths and considerations.

Ultimately, Austin Wells’ fate intertwines with Jose Trevino’s recovery and the team’s assessment of defensive priorities. His offensive potential may vie against defensive concerns, potentially shaping the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. As the Yankees navigate their catching carousel, Wells awaits his role, poised for opportunity amidst the flux of spring training.

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