The New York Yankees are rolling into the 2023 season with Jose Treviño as their starting catcher, which is justifiable after a successful 2022 campaign.
Treviño ranks as one of the best defensive catchers in the game but has his vulnerabilities in the batter’s box. Treviño hit .248 with a .283 OBP, 11 homers, and 43 RBIs last season. While this was his best offensive campaign by a significant margin, the Yankees have another catcher developing in their farm system that will not only provide elite offensive metrics but has experienced considerable improvements regarding his defensive qualities.
The elevation of Austin Wells:
Austin Wells, a former first-round pick back in 2020, has steadily grown in the Yankees minor-league system. At 23 years old, he elevated from A-ball to AA last season, enjoying 55 games with Somerset. He hit .261 with a .360 OBP, 12 homers, and 43 RBIs with seven stolen bases. His offensive metrics were fantastic, and featuring a lefty bat in Yankee Stadium makes him an exciting young player that could be genuinely special.
Despite the excitement regarding his offensive game, many have questioned his defensive abilities and if they can translate to the MLB level. Wells has heard the criticism, but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his dream and fighting to be an All-Star caliber player.
“It’s basically been that (way) since before I got drafted,” Wells said of his doubters. “There’s always been that doubt and there’s still that doubt. I feel like continuing to prove that I can play the position at a higher level is the goal, and not necessarily because of what other people say but because I want to be the catcher of the New York Yankees. I want to be an All-Star catcher. I want to be known for not just being able to hit. I want to do both, and I want to do both extremely well. The more that people say I can’t, it definitely fires me up to work harder and be in a better spot each day.”Wells told Chris Kirschner of The Athletic.
Wells saw significant improvements on the defensive side last season, enjoying a 25% caught-stealing percentage, up from 13% in 2021. After recording 16 passed balls, he allowed just four last season, including 9.4 framing runs above average. That type of defensive improvement warrants attention and builds upon the narrative that Wells will be a catcher at the next level.
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The Yankees should call him up in 2023:
In fact, there’s a solid argument to make that Wells should be called up this upcoming season to earn a few reps down the stretch. Mitigating fatigue will be an essential variable for the Yankees. Despite retaining Kyle Higashioka and having Ben Rortvedt waiting in the wings if need be, Wells will have to fight his way up the depth chart to earn an opportunity.
However, given his exciting offensive potential, the Yankees should test those strengths at the MLB level if he can make the jump to AAA by the All-Star break.
At such a young age, Austin has all the qualities the Yankees are looking for in an offensive catcher, and while they aren’t necessary to win championships in this day and age, it is certainly a luxury.
Even if he can offer league-average defense with above-average offense at his position, his value at the back end of the batting order will certainly shine through. Treviño currently bats 8th or 9th, getting on base at a sub-30 % clip, which is essentially an automatic out in some instances, specifically during the postseason when pitching gets even more challenging.
If Wells can crack a 34% on-base rate, he would be a massive asset for the Bombers. Of course, he still has a long way to go before transitioning to the majors, but he’s well on his way after jumping three farm teams last season and dominating with Somerset.