The New York Yankees are at a critical juncture with their catcher position, facing significant decisions with a current surplus of talent and anticipated trades. They have tendered a contract to backup Kyle Higashioka, but it’s widely expected that he will be traded, potentially for prospects or bullpen support.
Higashioka has proven himself as a decent player, capable of hitting around 10 home runs per season and providing solid defensive skills. While he could start on some teams, he serves ideally as a backup.
In addition to Higashioka, the Yankees could also look to trade Ben Rortvedt and Carlos Narváez, both of whom have demonstrated promise, particularly in Triple-A. With these potential moves, José Treviño and Austin Wells are being eyed as the primary catchers for the 2024 season. However, there is some skepticism, especially concerning Wells.
Austin Wells: A Promising Yet Uncertain Prospect for the Yankees
Wells will essentially be a rookie in 2024 after playing 19 games for the Yankees this past season. He spent 33 games in Triple-A before being promoted, hitting .254 with a .349 OBP, including five homers, 20 RBIs, and a 101 wRC+. His MLB numbers were a bit inconsistent, but he picked things up over the final two weeks of the season. He hit .229 with a .257 OBP, four homers, 13 RBIs, and 18.7% strikeout rate, a 4% walk rate, and 97 wRC+. He hit all of his home runs and recorded a .289 average and 161 wRC+ over the final two weeks of the season.
There is no question he has offensive upside and can leverage the short right porch in Yankee Stadium with his lefty bat, but his defense is still a concern.
According to Chris Kirchner of The Athletic, some are still not sold on his qualities, but he took some big steps forward and earned glowing reviews from several pitchers.
“Wells started looking more comfortable at the plate in the final two weeks of the season, and the Yankees could use some more pop in the lineup. Scouts and rival executives are still not sold he’ll stick at catcher.”
Both Luis Severino and Michael King came to Wells’s defense last year, verbally showcasing their confidence in his defense. Behind the dish, he not only looks comfortable but disciplined. He kept pitchers in line and committed to the game plan instead of getting overwhelmed.
“I thought that was the most impressive, because he goes out there and you’re catching some really good talent,” King said. “There’s also some egos on this team, and he’s continued to be very even-keeled and knows exactly how to get you fired up, to work with you, how to calm you down.”
The 24-year-old certainly has a maturity about him that translates well, and he’s a great teammate, developing with several transitioning youngsters, including Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, and soon-to-be Jasson Dominguez. Wells has been about an average hitter throughout the minor-league system and showcased similar numbers in the MLB.
Given the fact that the Yankees have sacrificed offense at the catcher position in the past, his sticking around would be a major benefit and allow José Treviño to operate as a primary defender and personal catcher to Gerrit Cole.