Yankees’ coach lauds Triple-A prospect’s defense

Austin Wells during a Yankees' batting practice.

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Austin Wells has caught the attention of fans and the media, while the Yankees have had a season where their hitters haven’t been as productive as expected. A day after receiving praise from the Yankees’ hitting coordinator, it was time for the catching coach to point out his progress in the defensive aspect.

Austin Wells’ progress at the plate

Austin Wells in a batting patrictise at the Yankees

Since his selection as the 28th overall pick by the New York Yankees in 2020, concerns regarding Austin Wells’ prowess behind the plate have loomed large. However, during an interview to Gary Phillips, Tanner Swanson, the Yankees’ catching coordinator, has offered a positive assessment of Wells’ defensive evolution. Swanson, who maintains close tabs on the organization’s catchers and Wells’ daily activities, acknowledged the initial doubts but expressed contentment with the strides made by the young prospect.

“Shedding these narratives or stigmas can be challenging. As an industry, we tend to label players hastily, particularly upon acquisition. Undoubtedly, there were questions about his defensive skills when he joined us, but his performance in this aspect has been consistently impressive within our system. There are numerous indicators of his growth as a receiver, a blocker, and his arm strength has notably improved since his college days.”

Swanson divulged that Wells, who holds the eighth spot among the Yankees’ prospects on MLB.com, initiated a weighted ball regimen a few years back to bolster his arm power. Nevertheless, this season, Wells has thwarted only 13% of base steal attempts. In conjunction with his defensive advancement, Wells has faced challenges, tallying 10 errors and three passed balls.

The Yankees Tripe-A prospect, Austin Wells.

“The progress in his receiving skills has been substantial since his integration into our system,” Swanson affirmed.

Notably, the names of Wells and outfielder Everson Pereira surfaced recently as they were absent from the Triple-A lineup on Thursday. However, neither received promotions ahead of the Yankees’ faceoff against the Red Sox. According to Conor Foley of The Times-Tribune, Wells enjoyed a rest day, whereas Pereira was under the weather.

This Friday marked the commencement of the period wherein teams can summon prospects without their service time exceeding 45 days, ensuring their rookie eligibility for 2024 remains intact.

“Aaron Boone acknowledged the proximity of these players,” underscoring Pereira’s presence on the 40-man roster, as opposed to Wells. “Both are making their presence felt and entering the conversation. We’ll see.”

As a left-handed batter, Wells has encountered mixed results at the plate this season, primarily performing in Double-A and Triple-A. His cumulative batting line entering Friday rested at .238/.330/.424 across 85 games. In Double-A, he maintained a slash line of .237/.327/.443 with 11 home runs and 50 RBI over 58 games. Meanwhile, in Triple-A, he notched .253/.344/.386 with one home run and eight RBI across 22 games.

Austin Wells in action for the Somerset Patriots.
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Though his offensive statistics may not be staggering, Wells has the potential to invigorate the Yankees’ lackluster offense, which has struggled this season, especially with minimal contributions from Kyle Higashioka, Ben Rortvedt, and the sidelined Jose Trevino.

However, the question lingers: Is Wells equipped to handle the demands of a major league pitching staff?

Swanson opined, “Determining this is challenging. The true test comes when one experiences it firsthand at this level. What I can affirm is that his performance doesn’t suggest otherwise. His accomplishments in the minors indicate that he possesses the necessary skills and tools. Now, it’s a matter of timing and opportunity.”

Swanson disclosed that Wells has been a subject of discussions within the Yankees’ circle for months, though recent deliberations haven’t occurred.

Promoting a catcher midway through a season poses challenges due to the position’s complexities, requiring a deep understanding of individual pitchers and meticulous game planning.

“Numerous behind-the-scenes elements require time to cultivate relationships, establish trust, and grasp our advanced processes and strategies against hitters,” Swanson elaborated, commending Wells’ dedication. “This is a substantial hurdle that Triple-A can’t replicate. Overcoming it demands experience and time. Yet, we’re diligently emulating our process here in Scranton, aiming to minimize the learning curve upon their arrival.”

Amidst these considerations, Swanson harbors confidence that Wells will be primed for success when the opportunity arises.

“When the time is right,” Swanson affirmed, “I’m confident he’ll be well-prepared.”

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