Yankees’ rookie catcher could steal starting job with a bit of luck

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals

The New York Yankees are optimistic about Austin Wells, a 24-year-old catcher who showed promising signs at the tail end of the 2023 season. With a 97 wRC+, hovering around the league average, Wells exhibited the potential to become more than just an average hitter, a rarity and luxury at the catcher position.

Offensive Potential and Defensive Improvements

Wells demonstrated significant offensive capabilities last season, batting .229/.257/.486 with four homers and 13 RBIs over 19 games. His performance peaked during the last two weeks of the season, where he boasted a .289 average and a .667 slugging rate, culminating in a 161 wRC+.

While his offensive talents have always been recognized, concerns about his defensive abilities have been paramount. However, Wells made considerable improvements in his defense during the off-season, reassuring the Yankees’ management and exciting the team about his future contributions.

Aaron Boone, the Yankees’ manager, has acknowledged Wells’s defensive strides alongside his offensive prowess. With Jose Trevino expected to begin the year as the primary catcher but sidelined due to a calf strain, Wells has a unique opportunity to further develop his rapport with the team’s pitching staff, including ace Gerrit Cole.

“[Wells has] done such a good job making big strides, defensively, catching,” Boone said. “And obviously being an offensive guy, too. Learning our staff, getting called up last year, the progress he’s made this winter. Right now we don’t want to put that on his plate.

“Athletically he can absolutely handle anything, and that could be something down the road that adds a versatility element to it. Right now, I want him focused on our staff and the catching position.”

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The Yankees’ Road Ahead

The Yankees envision Wells as their long-term solution behind the plate, emphasizing his development with the team’s top pitchers.

Despite having Jose Trevino under team control until the 2026 off-season, Wells’s potential for even slightly above-average defense, combined with his offensive skills, makes him a compelling daily play option. Trevino’s offensive struggles last season, marked by a .210/.257/.312 slash line contrasts sharply with the offensive upside Wells offers.

As the Yankees focus on Wells’s defensive development, the progress he’s made positions him as a potential long-term asset. Additionally, the Yankees are keeping an eye on Agustin Ramirez, a 22-year-old catching prospect with notable slugging potential and solid defensive skills, further bolstering the team’s future prospects at the catcher position.

Austin Wells represents a critical piece of the Yankees’ future, offering a blend of offensive talent and improved defensive capabilities. As the 2024 season approaches, Wells’s development and performance could significantly influence the team’s dynamics and long-term strategy.

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