Yankees: Austin Wells is a likely candidate to replace Gary Sanchez

Feb 21, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees catcher Austin Wells (62) at Yankees player development complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees catcher Austin Wells (62) at Yankees player development complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Yankees fans were no doubt pleased that their team beat the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday. It would have been disappointing had the Yanks started the season 0-2 out the gate.

Still, the Bombers need to begin hitting, especially with men on base. Too many chances with runners in scoring position were missed in the first three games with the Blue Jays.

And it was great for the returning fans to see the Kraken hit his second home run of the young season. Gary Sanchez golfed a pitch 365 feet just over the left-field railing in Yankee Stadium.

Those in attendance cheered loudly, and many probably thought that maybe, just maybe, Sanchez will be returning to his old form in 2021. He rounded the bases proudly, and his teammates celebrated him in the dugout with jubilant high-fives.

For me, the game against the Jays also raised the Gary Sanchez story of continued disappointment.

Sorry, but I was not one of those celebrating Sanchez’s dinger in the fourth inning. With the Blue Jays batting in the previous inning, Gary made an error in an attempt to throw out a base stealer.

He certainly has an impressive cannon. His accuracy, however, is another issue. The ball reached center field, allowing Danny Jansen, Sanchez’s catching counterpart on the Jays, to score and make the game unnecessarily close.

Let’s be honest. Sanchez’s homer was “a make-up” for the botched throw to second base an inning earlier.

Yes, the same Gary from 2019 and 2020 is back. At some point, manager Aaron Boone has to ask whether having Sanchez in the lineup and on the field is, overall, a net gain for the club. His frequent poor play behind the plate nullifies the runs he scores from launching the ball into the stands, no matter how impressive that might be.

If his errors continue, one has to wonder whether it is prudent to rely on him to be the catcher of the future. Don’t we want players who can add to a club’s RBI total without subtracting from it?

Austin Wells will eventually replace Gary Sanchez as the Yankees’ starting catcher.

Once the Yankee brass comes to their senses and realizes that having Sanchez behind the plate hurts more than he helps, they may turn to Austin Wells – one of the bright shining stars in spring training – to replace the Kraken.

Wells hails from Las Vegas, Nevada. As a high school student, he was chosen as the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year and was a second-team All-American selection by USA Today.

Wells was taken by the Yanks in the 35th round of the 2018 MLB Draft. However, he decided not to sign and enrolled at the University of Arizona instead. He was a terrific player at the collegiate level, and he attracted considerable attention from baseball scouts.

The Yanks’ interest didn’t wane, however. They selected him 28th overall in the 2020 MLB Draft. The club offered him a $2.5 million bonus to join the Bombers. He accepted and signed.

He was a non-roster invite to 2021 spring training after missing the 2020 season due to the pandemic. MLB Pipeline identifies him as sixth-best prospect in the organization.

So how did the soon-to-be 22-year-old (in July) lefty hitter perform? He appeared in 10 games in a limited role, had eight plate appearances, walked once, and got two hits. He also stole a base.

According to Boone, “he can hit.” He acknowledged Wells’ bat is advanced and impressive.

Hitting coach Marcus Thames and other Yankee coaches also are high on Wells, given what they saw in spring training. His line drives in batting practice immediately attracted the attention of everyone.

He’ll have to compete for the catching position against two other promising draftees, Anthony Siegler and Josh Breaux, to unseat Sanchez. These players were drafted by the Yankees in the first two rounds in 2018.

At this early point in Wells’ career, despite a below-average arm, the Yanks are impressed with the work he has already done with their instructors remotely. The team expects him to be able to improve his play behind the plate as time goes on.

While he also could play the outfield and first base, he clearly sees himself as a catcher. He says that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to the major leagues.

If Wells continues to stay focused, he will improve his overall play. If he outperforms other catcher candidates on the Yanks, don’t be surprised to see him replace Sanchez behind the plate as early as next season, depending on how his ascension through the minor leagues goes this year.

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