Yankees are starting to see young left-handed catcher flourish

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Wells was among the prospects promoted last season to help fill out the roster, and the Yankees knew they had a player who could anchor them at the catching position for a while. When looking at a hitter’s profile, sometimes early-career results can mislead us into thinking a hitter is far worse than their actual talent level. In the case of Wells, he only has a .295 OBP and 95 wRC+ through his first 38 career games, but I’d argue he’s one of the most impressive young hitters who have come up in the last two years.

With high barrel rates, strong contact numbers, and an incredible ability to generate barrels, Austin Wells has become the perfect profile for the Yankees’ lineup, and he’s quietly becoming one of the top young players in the organization.

Austin Wells is Becoming a Core Bat For the Yankees

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing that stands out from what Austin Wells did last year and this year is the decrease in Chase Rate, as he expanded the zone 37% of the time in 2023 but cut that number down to 22.1% in 2024. He was always a patient hitter, but it seems he was overly aggressive to try and force some action, especially with his slump upon being promoted. In Wells’ first nine games, the left-handed hitting catcher had just four hits in 38 plate appearances, striking out 26.3% of the time.

Not only was he struggling to make consistent contact, but he also struggled to hit for any power, barreling 3.8% of batted balls with a .176 SLG%, but something seemed to click midway through September. From that point forward, the barrels came in bunches, as he hit .333 down the stretch with a 206 wRC+ and four home runs in 10 games. Austin Wells picked up seven barrels and started to consistently get the ball in the air, and this would give the Yankees the confidence to make him one of their two catchers alongside Jose Trevino.

This season had a similar tone, as Wells got off to a slow start hitting just .086 with a 24 wRC+ through his first 14 games, but there are some key differences here. The process at the plate was genuinely amazing through those games, working more walks (9) than strikeouts (8) and sporting a 13.8% barrel rate, and we know the results had to come around at some point. Over the last five games, he has a 262 wRC+, and looking at the production he’s put up since his early slump in 2023, it’s extremely encouraging.

So for about 30 games now, the Yankees have had an elite-level hitter who has the profile of a superstar-caliber bat, and the defensive value is improving as well. At +1 Fielding Run Value, Austin Wells is a solid defensive catcher who excels in the framing department. As long as he’s above-average defensively, the Yankees are going to be very happy with the production they get from Wells, who has quickly shot his wRC+ up to 93 on the season. He’s pulling the ball more often and we’re seeing him reap the benefits, with a chance to become a middle-of-the-order threat for the Yankees.

A hitter I’d compare him to is Triston Casas of the Red Sox, a marvelous left-handed bat with the power and discipline to win a Silver Slugger Award when he’s healthy. He posted an above-average Barrel Rate and walked over 17% of the time through May 1st, but he had only a 56 wRC+ to show for it. Something clicked for him afterward, and he posted a 147 wRC+ the rest of the way, getting off to a hot start in 2024 before suffering a cracked rib. That being said, if Wells wants to become the dominant hitter the Yankees envision he can be, some tweaks need to be made.

While a lot of Austin Wells’ slow start can be attributed to poor luck, a good chunk of it can also be attributed to the lack of pulled flyballs. This isn’t an ideal spray chart for a left-handed hitter at Yankee Stadium, and if Wells can get out in front to drive the baseball to right field more often, we could see the power output increase. It might lead to some more chases and whiffs, but given how elite he is in both categories, getting closer to the league average is a fine trade-off to make if it results in more pulled flyballs.

Over his last six games, where he has a 233 wRC+ and .667 SLG%, Wells is pulling the ball 50% of the time, which explains the increase in power production. It’s a lot easier to hit home runs when you’re pulling it in the air, and Austin Wells doesn’t have the raw power that someone like Aaron Judge or even Juan Soto does to shoot the ball the other way multiple rows deep with ease. The Yankees should be extremely excited about how their young catcher has progressed in the early stages of his career, and they might have their catcher of the future.

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