Who is Austin Wells, the Yankees rookie reminding fans of Thurman Munson?

Yankees rookie catcher Austin Wells in 2023
Sara Molnick
Friday October 6, 2023

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Rookie catcher Austin Wells became the hero for the Yankees fans on September 27, 2023, when he hit a two-run homer off Toronto’s Jordan Romano in the top of the ninth inning of a tied game, giving the Yankees the lead. He finished the game 1-for-4 in the Yankees’ 2-0 victory over the Blue Jays. After struggling with a .103 batting average in his first eight games, the young catcher improved, hitting .276 with three home runs, scoring five runs, and driving in six RBIs over his last eight games.

When the Yankees promoted Jasson Dominguez and Austin Wells to their MLB roster on September 1, all eyes were on “The Martian,” who was playing center field and hitting a home run in his first career at-bat. Meanwhile, Austin Wells’ debut as a major leaguer received less attention. However, the rookie catcher quickly showed his abilities at the plate and fearlessly tackled the task of developing and executing a game plan for three different starting pitchers in his first three games as a major league catcher.

Catching coach Tanner Swanson commended Austin Wells for his rapid adaptability and outstanding performance in a high-pressure and demanding setting. According to him:

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

Who is Austin Wells?

Yankees' Austin Wells is at Tampa during a practice session.
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Austin Kenneth Wells, who was born on July 12, 1999, grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both of his parents were athletes at the University of Arizona. His father, Greg, played baseball, while his mother, Michelle, was a gymnast. In addition to his parents, his brothers Carson and Mason were also involved in sports, with Carson playing baseball and Mason playing lacrosse.

He went to Bishop Gorman High School, where he was the catcher for the school’s baseball team. In his junior year, Austin Wells received several accolades, including being named the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year and earning a spot on the second-team All-American by USA Today. He also participated in the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game. During that season, the catcher achieved an impressive .500 batting average, along with eight home runs and 47 runs batted in (RBIs). It was during his junior year that he made the commitment to play college baseball at the University of Arizona.

In his senior season, Austin Wells suffered an elbow injury to his throwing arm that necessitated surgery. Due to the injury, he couldn’t continue catching during his senior year but still contributed as a designated hitter. Unfortunately, this limited the attention he had previously garnered from Major League Baseball (MLB) teams. Despite the setback, he had a very impressive senior season, boasting a .527 batting average, hitting 20 doubles, six triples, and four home runs. He also scored 46 runs and drove in 46 runs.

Before joining the University of Arizona, the New York Yankees drafted Austin Wells straight out of high school in the 35th round of the 2018 draft. However, he chose to pursue his college baseball career instead.

Damon Oppenheimer, the Vice President of Domestic Amateur Scouting for the Yankees, stated after selecting Austin Wells, that they’ve known him for years and have seen significant progress in his skills behind the plate, which makes them believe he has the potential to be a valuable player.

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Austin Wells’ second year with the Wildcats was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but his performance during his freshman season provides a glimpse into his potential as a left-handed-hitting catcher. In his first year with the Arizona Wildcats, as a true freshman, Wells had an impressive .353 batting average. He scored 73 runs, hit 15 doubles, seven triples, five home runs, and drove in 60 runs. His outstanding performance earned him the title of Pac-12 Conference Freshman of the Year. After the college season, Austin Wells played for the Yarmouth–Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod Baseball League, where he stood out as a league All-Star. He was also honored with the Robert A. McNeese Outstanding Pro Prospect Award after hitting .308 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs.

Baseball America and the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper recognized Austin Wells as a second-team preseason All-American, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association included him in their third team. He was also selected for the watchlist of the Golden Spikes Award as he entered his sophomore season. During the abbreviated season that was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Austin Wells displayed his skills, batting .375 with two home runs, 14 RBIs, and an impressive 1.116 OPS in 15 games.

The Yankees draft

The New York Yankees chose Wells in the first round of the 2020 MLB draft, selecting him as the 28th overall pick. Austin Wells officially joined the Yankees when he signed with them on June 25, and he received a signing bonus of $2.5 million.

Austin Wells of the New York Yankees

The scouting report highlighted Austin Wells’ exceptional athleticism for a catcher and noted his capability to play in an outfield position if needed. It also praised his power at the plate. The report mentioned his impressive bat speed, the ideal angle of his bat at the point of contact, and his innate strength, which allows him to make solid contact without sacrificing power to one side. While he can hit from all parts of the field, his hardest-hit balls typically result from inside pitches that he can turn on. His power was consistently evident during his time in the Cape Cod League, which is known for being a challenging place to consistently hit for power. The report concluded that Austin Wells possesses above-average game power with the potential for even greater power in the future due to his strength, quick reflexes, and efficient mechanics.

The Yankees’ scouts were pleased to observe that he was a versatile player capable of competently handling different positions, including catcher, outfielder, and first base.

The Yankees career

In 2021, the Yankees invited Austin Wells to join their spring training as a non-roster player. They initially placed him with the Low-A Tampa Tarpons at the beginning of the minor league season and later promoted him to the High-A Hudson Valley Renegades in late July. Throughout the season, he achieved a combined batting average of .264, an on-base percentage of .390, and a slugging percentage of .476, totaling 16 home runs and 76 RBIs in 103 games. Following the season, the Yankees assigned Austin Wells to the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League.

In 2022, Austin Wells kicked off the season playing for Hudson Valley and earned a promotion to the Double-A Somerset Patriots in July. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken rib during spring training, which delayed the beginning of his 2023 season with Somerset. However, on July 21, the Yankees promoted Austin Wells to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Austin Wells displayed his hitting prowess at the Triple-A level by smashing his first home run with incredible force. This solo homer by the Yankees prospect kickstarted a comeback for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, leading them to a thrilling 6-5 victory over their affiliate from Boston. In the eighth inning, Austin Wells, who is recognized as the Yankees’ eighth-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline, showcased his batting skills in a remarkable fashion. With conviction, he made solid contact with a 2-1 pitch from pitcher Justin Hagenman, sending the ball flying a staggering 473 feet with an exit velocity of 108.7 mph. This powerful hit cleared the right field fence at Polar Park in Worcester.

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Austin Wells, after being chosen by the Yankees, dedicated himself to refining his skills and leaving a lasting impression in the MLB. His unwavering determination bore fruit when he finally achieved his long-awaited MLB debut in 2023. This moment signified a major milestone in his career, as he officially became part of the professional baseball fraternity and commenced displaying his talents on the grand MLB stage.

On September 1, 2023, Austin Wells received his long-awaited promotion to the major leagues with the Yankees. That same night, he marked his MLB debut and notched his inaugural MLB hit during his first at-bat, facing off against Justin Verlander. Then, on September 20, Austin Wells blasted his very first career home run, a 416-foot solo shot to the right field, while squaring off against pitcher Erik Swanson in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays. This rookie catcher showcased his power with consecutive homers in matches against Arizona and Toronto, significantly contributing to his team’s victories. On September 25, he hammered a home run in the fourth inning, erasing the Diamondbacks’ lead, and later in the eighth, he provided the Yankees with another crucial run to secure the lead. The following day, he delivered another game-changing performance with a two-run homer in the ninth inning, marking his third home run in just five days, ultimately sealing a 2-0 triumph for the Yankees over the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. He ended the season with a three-run homer in the last game.

Austin Wells stands out on the field with his remarkable catching abilities and composure under the game’s intense pressure. He proudly represents the New York Yankees, a team with a rich history of success and dedicated fans. Wells, armed with his talent and unwavering determination, has the potential to emerge as a crucial player for the Yankees, making valuable contributions to the team’s future accomplishments.

The chicken parm episode

Anthony Volpe has faced considerable challenges in his debut season with the New York Yankees, and as the season advanced, his performance statistics took a downturn. Some fans were calling for a symbolic shift in the team’s direction, especially since fellow prospect Oswald Peraza was excelling in Triple-A during the same period. Nonetheless, the Yankees have remained committed to Volpe, and he has started to demonstrate improvements in his play as a result of their unwavering support.

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On June 12, 2023, during a day off for the Yankees, Anthony Volpe extended an invitation to several of his former minor league teammates from the 2022 season, including Austin Wells, to gather at his home in New Jersey. Together, they spent the day reviewing videos from his time in the minor leagues, hoping to identify the reasons behind his struggles at the plate. With the assistance of his former minor league teammate, catcher Austin Wells, Volpe identified an aspect of his swing that both players believed was worth modifying.

At that gathering, Anthony Volpe and catching prospect Austin Wells had an important revelation about Volpe’s batting stance. Volpe mentioned that they discussed some minor adjustments related to his stance and how he positioned himself for hitting. He described these changes as relatively small but significant, and they both had a valuable learning experience from their conversation.

The following day, the Yankees faced the New York Mets, and Volpe was included in the starting lineup. He had a notable performance, hitting two impressive doubles out of four at-bats. In the subsequent three games, he managed to accumulate four hits. Volpe acknowledged that Austin Wells played a crucial role in helping him reverse his performance.

Direct competition to defensive elite Jose Trevino

Austin Wells enters the New York Yankees’ spring training with a significant opportunity to secure a place on the roster, potentially challenging Jose Trevino for the starting catcher position. Despite a reputation for prioritizing his batting skills over his defensive capabilities, Wells has shown promising signs of becoming a more balanced player, addressing concerns about his defensive performance.

In the backdrop of skepticism, particularly among external evaluators, about his defensive suitability for the catcher position, Wells has made strides in disproving doubters. His performance towards the end of the last MLB season began to change perceptions, showcasing improvements not just with the bat but also behind the plate. This progress puts him in direct competition with Jose Trevino, known for his exceptional defensive skills and pitcher management.

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Gerrit Cole’s comfort with Wells as his catcher, as well as positive remarks from other pitchers, underscores Wells’ potential to contribute significantly to the Yankees’ pitching strategy. His efforts to enhance his arm strength and pop time to second base, now registering above the MLB average, further demonstrate his commitment to improving defensively. Wells’ throw velocity has increased, and his exchange time is noted as above average, reflecting focused efforts to address previously identified weaknesses.

Wells’ aspirations for the catcher role are supported by internal confidence within the Yankees organization. Yankees catching coordinator Tanner Swanson highlights Wells’ defensive metrics in the minors and his short stint in the MLB as indicators of his capability to perform at a high level. This internal confidence contrasts with external doubts, suggesting a belief in Wells’ potential to exceed expectations.

The comparison between Wells and Trevino extends to their contributions to game management and pitch framing, an area where the Yankees have placed significant emphasis. While Trevino excels in these aspects, Wells has shown promise, particularly in pitch framing, an area of focus for improvement. Aaron Boone’s acknowledgment of Wells’ game-calling savvy and strong presentation reinforces the potential for Wells to play a more significant role in the Yankees’ defensive strategy.

As the Yankees prepare for the upcoming season, the competition between Wells and Trevino underscores a broader strategy to leverage both offensive and defensive strengths. Wells’ development journey, marked by his desire to improve and the tangible progress he has made, positions him as a credible competitor to the defensively elite Trevino. This dynamic within the Yankees’ roster highlights the ongoing balance between nurturing homegrown talent and maximizing team performance through strategic player roles.

What do you think about Austin Wells? Leave your comment below.

Standard Batting

YearGPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSOBAOBPSLGOPSOPS+TBGDPHBPSHSFIBBPos
202319757081660413003140.2290.2570.4860.7429734300102/H
GPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSOBAOBPSLGOPSOPS+TBGDPHBPSHSFIBB
1 Yr19757081660413003140.2290.2570.4860.742973430010
162 Game Avg.162639597681365103411100261190.2290.2570.4860.74297290260090
Baseball Reference

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