The New York Yankees thought they’d figured out the whole “catcher of the future” thing back in 2016, when Gary Sánchez officially ascended, ripping 20 homers in 53 games to earn a partial-season second-place Rookie of the Year finish.
Whew. That was a tough one. Catchers are famously tough to find, but the Yankees have the best offensive threat in the game with San–I’m sorry, what? He regressed spectacularly in 2018, had an All-Star first half but still somehow drew the fans’ ire in 2019, and ranged from “abhorrent” to “average” between 2020 and 2021?
Oh. Got it. Unpleasant.
2022 is Sánchez’s final season under contract with the Yankees, and whether he’s tendered a contract or not, it’s now become clear he isn’t a long-term solution, and might not be an “average” option much longer. The catching situation across the league is similarly bleak, but with so many financial concerns moving forward, the Bronx Bombers can do without Sánchez’s regression and muddled defensive portfolio.
So … who else is out there? The free agent options are less than inspiring. Trade opportunities? Who trades starting catchers? Other than JT Realmuto, who the Yankees probably should’ve been all over a few years back. Whoops.
The long-term solution for the Bronx Bombers is probably going to come from within yet again, just like when the Sanchize ascended. Our eyes are on 19-year-old Antonio Gomez, but don’t sleep on 2020 first-round pick Austin Wells. For all intents and purposes, he has the swing down, but might end up position-less; remember, Kyle Schwarber was a college catcher, too.
According to Wells himself, though, he is putting in the work to become viable behind the dish. And, thus far, he seems plenty comfortable at the plate on the biggest stage, too. In the prospect showcase-heavy Arizona Fall League, Wells has stolen the show early.
Yankees top prospect Austin Wells is red hot in the AFL.
There’s that plus lefty power we’ve heard so much about … and the speed to put a triple on the board? Don’t hate that!
Wells was solid if unspectacular in his full-season pro debut in 2021, but appears to have leveled up a bit now that the spotlight has gotten brighter in a league meant only for the very best. Between Low- and High-A this year, Wells hit .264 with 16 bombs, a .390 OBP, and an .867 OPS. Those numbers look, well, pretty good for a debut! But when you have to contend with breakouts like Anthony Volpe’s, it’s tougher to distinguish yourself.
Now, Wells’ defensive stats from 2021 … we must warn you, they’re quite garish. Not for the faint of heart:
"While hitting seems to come naturally to Wells, his defense requires more polish after he committed 16 passed balls in 70 games and erased just 13 percent of basestealers in his debut. He has below-average arm strength and a history of elbow problems that began at Bishop Gorman, and his receiving lacks consistency. Scouts outside the organization see him as a Kyle Schwarber type who will wind up in left field or first base — which could allow him to maximize his offensive contributions — but he and the Yankees are committed to remain at catcher."
Hopefully, Wells’ bat remains his calling card, but his defense becomes adequate enough to allow him to remain behind the plate.
You know, the Sánchez Plan from 2016, reimagined.
Stay tuned to the AFL to see how the youngster stacks up against the rest of the prospect elite. Maybe this time he can stand out instead of blending in.