It’s never too early to plan ahead.
Catcher Austin Wells made his big league debut for the New York Yankees in 2023, and while his first few weeks in majors were not perfect, and often overshadowed by the play of Jasson Domínguez, he showed enough prowess that one could safely assume he’ll begin 2024 in the Bronx.
Although the sample size from Wells’ cup of coffee wasn't very large, there were a few aspects of his game that could have been better. If he’s able to improve his defensive work behind the dish and potentially hit for greater power, his first full season may be anything but a traditional “sophomore slump.”
Wells only played in 19 games last season, but was 40th out of 74 catchers in framing runs and 56th out of 77 in blocking runs. While these numbers are not exactly encouraging there is still room to be optimistic when discussing Wells’ defense.
If health allows, Wells will spend next season alongside one of the best defensive catchers in the game, Jose Trevino. In 2022, Trevino was first in terms of framing runs and strike rate. A young player like Wells could learn a great deal from a veteran such as Trevino who has been in MLB since 2018.
An apprenticeship with Trevino could pay dividends if the Yankees make the postseason. October baseball can be an unforgiving endeavor. Singular pitches can determine the outcome of an at-bat or inning. Having two catchers that can maximize a pitcher's outing is an edge New York would love to have when facing powerful American League opponents like Texas and Baltimore.
On the offensive side of things, Wells had a quiet yet encouraging year. He slashed .229/.257/.486, hit four home runs, and collected 13 RBI. While the traditional stats are not extremely flashy, he showed an ability to piece together competitive at-bats and hit for contact. Among hitters with at least 50 balls in play, the Las Vegas native ranked sixth in expected slugging.
How Austin Wells can improve with the Yankees in 2024
For a player who bashed 17 home runs in 96 minor league contests last season, it would seem that the next logical step would be to develop a more consistent power stroke. As mentioned, Wells showed flashes of this during his brief time in the majors. But, one could argue that he has the strength and build to do more damage. His lefty swing could ultimately result in more balls going over the short porch wall in right field. This is not to say that Wells should become “pull happy,” but perhaps a greater focus on power could be beneficial.
Receiving this sort of offensive production from the catcher is a luxury that not every team has. Having a J.T. Realmuto or a Sean Murphy keeps a lineup competitive, and makes it more difficult for an opposing manager to correctly deploy their bullpen in the late innings. Wells’ development towards becoming a more lively power hitter will be a key wrinkle in the Yankees’ 2024 equation.
It's evident Wells has both potential and room for growth. As far as 2024 is concerned, he has an opportunity to develop his defensive skills and power stroke while helping an evolved New York team try to make a deep playoff run.