Yankees could get a huge boost from Austin Wells in 2023

New York Yankees, Austin Wells
Feb 20, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees catcher Austin Wells (72) looks on at Yankees Player Development Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of the fastest risers for the Yankees has been catcher Austin Wells, their first-round pick in 2020. His impressive bat has allowed him to shoot up all the way to Double-A in just two years of professional ball, with a real chance he starts out at Triple-A in 2023.

The Yankees may not be in need of a starting catcher, but they still could always use offense, and Wells is knocking on that door. With his electric bat, improving defense, and great athleticism, Austin Wells can play a much larger role on the 2023 Yankees than you might think.

Austin Wells Has a Ridiculous Offensive Profile

Austin Wells has hit wherever he’s gone, and he’s done so in a highly sustainable manner. Wells possesses strong plate discipline that allows him to not only work walks but also avoid high strikeout rates. In 92 games across Single-A, High-A, and Double-A, Austin Wells put up gaudy numbers that would blow anyone away:

  • 20 HRs
  • 145 wRC+
  • .385 OBP
  • .512 SLG
  • ,897 OPS
  • 13.9% BB%
  • 22.4% K%

Wells has a knack for posting strong OBP numbers to go alongside strong power. He’s got tons of loft in his swing, with line drive rates well above 20%, GB% below 40%, and flyball rates over 40% in 2022. Austin’s swing path allows him to generate consistently great contact, which reflects in a Sweet Spot% over 40%, which is higher than Aaron Judge’s 39% in 2022. Wells would have ranked 6th amongst MLB hitters, and here are the batters who ranked ahead of him

  1. Freddie Freeman (.393 wOBA)
  2. J.D. Martinez (.343 wOBA)
  3. Taylor Ward (.362 wOBA)
  4. Yordan Alvarez (.427 wOBA)
  5. Justin Turner (.343 wOBA)

All of those hitters registered a wRC+ of at least 119, so this is pretty good company to be in. Austin Wells can also put a real charge into the ball, with a Max Exit Velocity of 110 MPH, which would have placed him in the 62nd Percentile in 2022. That’s not elite, but players don’t tend to peak power-wise in their age 23 season, so perhaps there’s room to add another mile or two onto that number and push into that 70th-80th percentile, but when you generate lots of loft you’re going to generate a ton of game power.

His game power truly excites me with how he can profile at Yankee Stadium, as he could hit 20-25 HRs in a full season with relative ease due to the short porch in RF. What makes this so impressive is just how selective Austin Wells is, as he posted a mere 16.6% Chase%, which would have been the 2nd best mark in MLB behind just Max Muncy at 16.5%. Obviously, with better pitching at the Major League level, we’d see Wells have more chases, but even if it ends up around 20-22%, Wells could rock a double-digit walk rate to pair with what is a solid hit tool.

Austin Wells, New York Yankees
Feb 21, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees catcher Austin Wells (62) at Yankees player development complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Wells makes a solid amount of contact for a power hitter who has a ton of loft to their swing. With just a 22.4% K% and hitting .277, Wells doesn’t profile as a high-whiff hitter who posts a poor average, rather he could be a ~.260 hitter with league-average strikeout numbers to go alongside his remarkable eye and strong power. The tools offensively are all there for him, and with him potentially hitting Triple-A to start 2023, we could see him a lot sooner than later.

The Yankees recently saw the departure of Matt Carpenter, who played corner OF and DH when the Yankees needed a lift offensively. It’s not out of the picture for the Yankees to need Wells as a bat in the situation where injuries pile up, or players are underperforming, as we saw Oswaldo Cabrera and Estevan Florial come up to relieve struggling veterans in the lineup. Adding a left-handed power bat who can work the strike zone just plays into everything the Yankees could ever need. The question lies if Wells is able to handle himself defensively, and the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Becoming One of the Best Framers in MiLB

Austin Wells was drafted as a bat-first catcher, but he’s completely flipped the script on his defense in 2022. The University of Arizona alumni posted a whopping 11.9 Catching Defensive Adjustment with 12.7 Fielding Runs Above Average, which are elite marks. He’s a phenomenal framer, with 9.4 Framing Runs, and that’s something that should remain extremely valuable even with new rule changes. It’s very likely we still have human umpires but instead have a challenge system for balls and strikes, something that will preserve the value of stealing strikes.

Austin Wells is a great athlete for a catcher, with a 6’2 frame at 220 pounds, he’s got great strength while not limiting his mobility much at all. He’s not the traditional build for a slugging catcher, and that’s what makes his defensive ceiling higher than people give him credit for. The Yankees have gotten the framing down, and we’ve also seen Wells take strides in other important parts of being a MLB catcher. When comparing his 2021 defensive numbers to his 2022 defensive numbers, it’s night and day.

  • 2021 (585.2 Innings)
    • 16 Passed Balls
    • 98 Stolen Bases Allowed (12.5% Caught Stealing%)
    • -0.8 Blocking Runs
    • 2.6 Framing Runs
  • 2022 (557.2 Innings)
    • 4 Passed Balls
    • 98 Stolen bases Allowed (23.4% Caught Stealing%)
    • 0.1 Blocking Runs
    • 9.4 Framing Runs

He’s taken massive strides in limiting passed balls and cutting down baserunners, going from a turnstile behind the dish into an above-average blocker, and going from a green light to steal 2nd off of to a yellow light. Is Austin Wells the next Jose Trevino defensively? Absolutely not, but can most certainly hold his own at the position. Catching isn’t all I imagine the Yankees have Wells do, and that’s a huge part of what could make him valuable for the 2023 team.

Austin Wells has played 35 games in LF/RF in college and in Triple-A. I imagine the Yankees try to get him reps there to make him more versatile for the big league club. He also has 28 games played at 1B, so he could occasionally get games there. With four positions to put him at on any given day (and a 5th with the DH spot), Wells can find himself in the lineup in a lot of ways, and that versatility is vital to roster construction.

harrison bader, yankees
Oct 23, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader (22) rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Houston Astros in the sixth inning during game four of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the incredible athleticism and power, we saw from Bader in his postseason debut with the Yankees, he’s had injury issues his entire career. The Yankees could have to play Aaron Judge in CF for stretches, where Wells could then slot in at RF, rotating with Giancarlo Stanton or Oswaldo Cabrera. That’s not the only player who could get Wells to the show faster, as Giancarlo Stanton himself has had injury issues every year since 2019. Wells could fill in, giving Judge time off in RF and Rizzo time off at 1B and allowing one of those two to DH more often or just manning the DH spot himself.

yankees, anthony rizzo, aaron judge
Oct 11, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo, left, and right fielder Aaron Judge celebrate after Rizzo hit a home run during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Guardians in game one of the ALDS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Rizzo and DJ LeMahieu are also both corner infielders with injury questions, and while Volpe/Cabrera seem to be the answers to those questions, maybe Wells is part of the equation at 1B as well. If Jose Trevino or Kyle Higashioka were to go down, Wells is an obvious candidate to get the call as well. He would maintain their defensive excellence while also finally adding that left-handed option at the position that the Yankees have sorely missed. He’s a very intriguing young prospect because his role on the team isn’t necessarily defined yet, but the bat’s so good that you know he’ll carve a role out.

Part of the Solution For the Yankees

The Yankees struggled down the stretch last season to generate offense, and a huge part of that is that Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza aren’t expected to become big-time bats at the MLB level. What makes Cabrera so good is his versatility and solid offense with a flare for the dramatic. Oswald Peraza is a glove-first shortstop who adds speed and plate discipline to the bottom of your lineup. Austin Wells, on the other hand, has the upside of pushing a wRC+ in the range of 125-130. He could legitimately become a star-level hitter, not to say he’s a lock to be better than his similarly-aged peers, but that he’s probably going to outhit them.

Getting a spark in the middle of your lineup down the stretch like Austin Wells could dramatically raise not just the ceiling but also the floor of this ballclub. Wells provides power without inflating any strikeout issues, and he does so in a very patient manner. His baserunning isn’t anything to write off either, stealing 16 bases in just 92 games last season without getting caught once. It really isn’t crazy to say he could lead off a couple of times for the Yankees with hit plate discipline if he’s even in the 50th Percentile for Sprint Speed, but he could also hit 5th for this team if the bat is legit.

He’s not just versatile defensively, but he also is versatile for this lineup. Wells’ flyball-centric approach provides the HR power this team seems to run out of in the postseason, and his patient approach should allow him to work walks even when hits aren’t falling. He’s a very safe bat for this team going forward, and that’s really exciting for this team, especially factoring he’s left-handed.

New York Yankees, Austin Wells

Triple-A is the final hurdle, but I’m very confident he can handle that leap. His transition from High-A to Double-A was seamless, as his strikeout rate didn’t go up much, and he had a 129 wRC+ in his first 55 games with the Somerset Patriots. He clubbed 12 HRs and became a vital part of their Eastern Championship run, so there’s already a winning pedigree to Wells’ game. Spring Training isn’t for Austin Wells to try to make the initial roster but to put his name on the radar. Very similarly to what Oswaldo Cabrera did last year in March, he opened up some eyes and put himself on the Yankees’ radar.

Had it not been for a shoulder injury, there’s a good chance Cabrera would have joined the team a lot sooner. If 55 games into his Triple-A career, he’s putting up the gaudy offense he did with Somerset, the Yankees will be hard-pressed to keep him down there for much longer. The Yankees could add a potential 115 wRC+ left-handed bat next year without trading prospects or spending money, and that can change the tide of a season. All of his hard work defensively has paid off, and it’s about making that final stop in Triple-A before he inevitably makes it to the Big Leagues.

The years of drafting and holding onto guys who were hyped up a ton are turning into players we could actually see in 2023, and Wells is part of that initial wave. Steamer projects Austin Wells for a 111 wRC+, but projections for rookies are subject to far more variance. The University of Arizona looks to have another Wildcat make it to the show, and the Yankees look to add an impact bat to their lineup next summer in the hopes of winning their 28th Championship and their 1st of the Aaron Judge era.