The discourse surrounding 2020 New York Yankees first-round pick Austin Wells hasn’t changed much since the day he was selected (yes, in large part due to his wiped-out debut season): Kid can smack the baseball. Kid might not be a catcher. Look for a new spot for the kid.
If you ask those who’ve managed him thus far in the Yankees’ system, though, you might hear a slightly different narrative — or, at least, you’ll learn that his leadership is big-league ready, whether he ultimately ends up behind the dish or elsewhere.
The 22-year-old Wells will open the 2022 season with the High-A Hudson Valley Renegades, where he finished 2021 with a 38-game sample after beginning his pro career with Low-A Tampa.
His 2021 Hudson Valley manager, Dan Fiorito, has since moved onto Double-A Somerset, where he seems to be eagerly awaiting a reunion with Wells, whose poise (and, yes, power bat) he greatly admired during their short time together.
Ahead of taking his next step in the system with the Patriots on Friday, Fiorito spoke to NJ.com and raved about Wells’ obvious thump, as well as his ability to handle a pitching staff.
If the physical tools are able to rise to a big-league level behind the plate, it’s obvious Wells already has a leg up on the mental side of things and an ability to command the respect of his peers.
Yankees catcher Austin Wells receives raves for his power, poise.
If he can’t catch, Wells remains an interesting conundrum as a prospect. He’s already cracked MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 on essentially the strength of his bat alone, plus some crossed fingers about his future behind the plate. The Yankees have also shown willingness to absorb a defensive liability at catcher in recent years, as long as the bat was worth the sacrifice … but grew frustrated with that tradeoff this offseason. Would they really be willing to deviate and embrace the defensive dip again for Wells?
That’s why the endorsement — and continued instruction — of people like Fiorito means so much. Just doing enough work for Wells to stick behind the dish isn’t enough, either. He clearly wants to excel there, which could change the equation entirely.
But enough about his leadership skills. Oh, by the way, he can also demolish baseballs.
There are plenty of heavy hitters in the Yankees’ system. There are very few whose bats can make this exact sound on impact.
In 2021, Wells rose to prominence triple-slashing .264/.390/.476 with 16 homers from the left side of the plate.
Just as importantly for the Yankees’ brass, though, he accrued those numbers while getting his intangibles praised. 2022 will be a massive opportunity for him to continue putting his stamp on the organization when he’s not at bat.