Yankees Top 10 Prospects Countdown: No. 3 Austin Wells

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals

It’s prospects season! The New York Yankees have a sneaky deep farm system that has a lot of big-bodied pitchers and toolsy position players. Here at Empire Sports Media, we will be ranking the top 10 prospects on the Bombers starting in late January and finishing in early February.

Since prime Gary Sanchez in the late-2010s, the New York Yankees haven’t had a consistently above-average hitter from the catcher position. Austin Wells is young and inexperienced, but he has the potential to be just that for the Bombers in a best-case scenario.

No, not Sanchez: he doesn’t have that kind of power, but he is a well-above-average offensive performer. Spring training performance will likely dictate roles, but there is a very good chance that the Yankees employ a somewhat even timeshare at catcher between Wells and defensive specialist Jose Trevino.

Trevino is a Platinum Glove winner and a master of his craft behind the plate. He does everything well there. However, he is also a well-below-average hitter, whereas Wells had a 97 wRC+, four home runs, and a .486 slugging percentage in a short cameo (19 games) in the majors last year.

Wells posted a 129 wRC+ in Double-A in 2022 and a 108 mark at the same level in 2023. Last year, he played 33 games at Triple-A and had a 101 wRC+: wherever he goes, he hits. His bat has the potential to hit for a nice average for a catcher, think in the .240-.260 range, with 15-20 home runs and a nice OBP. His future MLB role will be dictated by his defense.

The Yankees will pay close attention to Wells’ defense and arm

Wells struggles to throw out would-be base stealers due to his below-average arm and lousy footwork. Between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors, 109 base stealers were successful, and he only threw out 16. He focused on improving his arm strength during the offseason, and it remains to be seen if the work he put in will have positive results.

Wells is a good framer (1.0 Framing Runs in those 19 games with the Yankees), although not close to elite; and his blocking skills are adequate because he has worked a lot to get them where they are. Here is a more accurate, specialized report on his defense by FanGraphs’ prospect evaluator Eric Longenhagen:

“His pop times are fine (1.90 during his big league trial per Baseball Savant), but his footwork is inconsistent as he leaves his crouch, causing inaccurate throws. This issue needs long-term attention, but Wells has made considerable progress as a receiver and ball-blocker despite his below-average hands and limited lateral mobility, the result of his one-knee style. I’m now more bullish than I’ve ever been about him staying behind the dish.”

What this kid has is an incredible desire to be better, to study pitchers, and to prepare for games. He has an elite work ethic, and that is also a useful tool.

Across three levels, Wells hit 20 home runs with the Yankees last year. They hope to get similar production this year, but with all the dingers coming in the majors. He is very much capable of that.

Wells will probably never be Buster Posey or Yadier Molina behind the plate, but if he can make enough strides in the throwing department, his offensive ability alone gives him a nice floor.

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