The Yankees’ selection of Austin Wells adds another to a long line of catchers.
The Yankees drafted catcher Austin Wells with their first-round pick. Wells, 20, hit .357 with an OPS of 1.035 in two seasons with the University of Arizona. This is the second time Wells has been drafted by New York — he was a 35th round pick of the Yankees back in 2018.
However, is too much of something a good thing? The Yankees don’t believe so (nor do I, for that matter). This is the second time in the last three drafts that the Yankees have spent a first-round pick on a catcher. New York took Anthony Seigler with the 23rd overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft out of Cartersville High School in Georgia. Seigler, 20, struggled offensively in 2019, batting just .175 with three extra-base hits (all doubles) in 30 games at Single-A Charleston. He was limited to just those 30 contests due to a patella fracture.
In case Seigler’s struggles weren’t enough to sell you on this pick, Wells may not even see time behind the plate. An elbow injury in high school forced Wells to DH in his final two seasons before attending Arizona. He played 53 games behind the dish at Arizona, but saw time at first base (27 games) and left field (10 games). With first base not being a position held by a prime-time player (though Luke Voit puts up great numbers when healthy), Wells could see a position change in the future.
In addition to Wells, New York also has other catchers in the minors. In fact, three of the club’s top 23 prospects are catchers, according to the MLB Pipeline prospect rankings. Antonio Gomez (22nd best prospect) was limited to 15 games at Rookie Ball last season due to a triceps injury. Gomez hit .288 with eight RBI in those contests. Age is also on Gomez’s side, as the Venezuelan-born catcher is just 18 years old.
The Yankees’ 23rd-best prospect, Josh Breaux, had a great season at Single-A Charleston in 2019. He slugged .518 with 13 homers and 49 RBI in 51 games. He’ll turn 23 in October.
Obviously, it’ll be a while before any of these prospects make it to the show. There’s almost no chance of a minor league season taking place in 2020, and thus the development of future stars will be delayed — and, of course, Gary Sanchez is still with the team. He’s under club control through the end of the 2022 season. Sanchez, 27, slugged 34 home runs last season. In fact, since the start of the 2016 season, he leads all major league catchers in home runs with 105 (min. 75% games played at catcher).
However, Sanchez (notice a pattern here?) was limited to 106 games due to back, groin and calf injuries. This is following a 2018 season that saw Sanchez play just 89 games. Don’t get me wrong. When healthy and locked in at the plate, there is no scarier hitter in baseball. But in order to drive fear into the hearts of pitchers, one must be in the lineup. Catchers (perhaps more than any other position in baseball) have a propensity for getting hurt. It’s the nature of the position.
I don’t blame the Yankees for looking for more depth behind the plate. Even if Sanchez overcomes his injury history, there’s no guarantee he’ll remain with the Yankees past the 2022 season. New York signed Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million deal in December. As of now, the club’s $250.3 million total payroll is the highest in the majors, though the numbers may change due to salary negotiations as a result of COVID-19.
Keep in mind, Aaron Judge will also be a free agent after the 2022 season. Gleyber Torres will be a free agent after the 2024 season. In other words, the “Baby Bombers” will be grown up soon. Grown up major leaguers cost a lot of money to procure. The Yankees, even with their exuberant wealth, won’t be able to keep Sanchez, Judge and Torres. If I had to guess right now, Sanchez would be the most likely to leave come free agency.
Time will tell if Austin Wells produces in pinstripes (whether it be at catcher, first base or the outfield). Perhaps he’ll follow in the footsteps of a great Yankees catcher. Former American League MVP Thurman Munson was taken in the first round of the 1968 MLB Draft. Perhaps Wells won’t make the majors at all. Either way, the logic behind the pick was sound. You can never have too many catchers.