Ever since the Yankees drafted Austin Wells 28th overall in 2020, there have been questions about the catcher’s defense.
Even the Yankees’ catching coordinator, Tanner Swanson, acknowledged that those concerns existed when Wells left the University of Arizona. But Swanson, who gets progress reports on all of the organization’s catchers and keeps up with what Wells is doing on a daily basis, is pleased with the strides the farmhand has made.
“Sometimes it’s hard to shed those narratives or the stigma. As an industry, we’re pretty quick to label guys, especially early, as soon as you acquire them,” Swanson told the Daily News of Wells. “He definitely had question marks defensively when we got him, but he’s done nothing but perform defensively since he’s been in our system. So there’s been a lot of really, really positive signs of his growth as a receiver, a blocker. The arm has come a long way since college.”
Swanson added that Wells, the Yankees’ eighth-best prospect on MLB.com, started a weighted ball program a few years ago to improve his arm strength. However, the 24-year-old has nabbed just 13% of base stealers this season.
Wells has also been charged with 10 errors and three passed balls this year.
Still, Swanson said, “the receiving’s really come a long way since he joined our system.”
Wells and outfielder Everson Pereira’s names came up a few times on Friday because they weren’t in the lineup at Triple-A on Thursday. But neither received promotions before the Yankees’ series opener against the Red Sox. According to The Times-Tribune’s Conor Foley, Wells had an off day on Thursday, while Pereira was sick.
Friday marked the first day that teams can call up prospects without them accruing 45 days of major league service time and therefore losing rookie eligibility in 2024.
“Those guys are obviously knocking on the door,” Aaron Boone said while noting that Pereira is on the 40-man roster, while Wells is not. “Those are guys that are pushing their way into the conversation. So we’ll see.”
Wells, a lefty swinger, has had mixed results at the plate this season while mostly playing at Double-A and Triple-A. He entered Friday hitting .238/.330/.424 in 85 total games.
He slashed .237/.327/.443 with 11 home runs and 50 RBI over 58 games at Double-A and .253/.344/.386 with one home run and eight RBI over 22 games at Triple-A.
While not eye-popping numbers, Wells could help a Yankees offense that has consistently underwhelmed this season while receiving minimal production from Kyle Higashioka, Ben Rortvedt and the injured Jose Trevino.
But is Wells ready to catch a major league staff?
“That’s a tough question,” Swanson said. “You never really know until you get up here and experience it. But I do know this: there’s nothing in his performance that would say that he’s not. Everything he’s done at the minor league level would suggest that he has the skills. He’s got the tools. Now it’s just about timing and opportunity.”
The coach added that the Yankees have had conversations about Wells for months, but there haven’t been any recent discussions.
Swanson noted that there are challenges to promoting a catcher mid-season, as the position requires more preparation, knowing individual pitchers, and lots of game-planning.
“There’s a lot of elements behind the scenes that take time to kind of develop those relationships, develop trust, understand our kind of advanced process and how we want to attack hitters,” said Swanson, who complimented Wells’ work ethic. “That is a legitimate hurdle that is hard to replicate in Triple-A. It’s something that just requires time and experience. But we’re doing everything we can to try to replicate our process here in Scranton so that that learning curve can be hopefully reduced when guys get here.”
With all that in mind, Swanson has faith that Wells will be ready whenever he arrives.
“When the time comes,” Swanson said, “I’m confident he’ll be in a good place.”
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