HOUSTON – Being a freshman is tough. Being a catcher is complicated. Being both — while meeting a new pitching team in the middle of the season — seems daunting.
And yet, first reviews say so Austin Wells does a great job on everything after three games in the majors.
“I was extremely impressed with his talent and how he fitted into that environment,” Yankees catch coordinator Tanner Swanson told the Daily News, noting that Wells also has to manage PitchCom, the pitch clock and running game signs for learning new pitchers and opposing batsmen in no time. “All in all, he’s managed to step back and somehow manage the moment and really focus on the task at hand, which is a challenge for a lot of young players.”
Swanson spoke before the Yankees finished their game Defeated the Astros with a 6-1 win on Sunday. Not only did Wells hit an RBI double, but he also snagged the major league’s first-ever base stealer, which put him to the test after the 24-year-old threw out just 13% of runners in the minors this season.
“It was really great to get the first shot on the first steal,” said Wells, who underwent throwing arm surgery in high school and introduced a weighted ball program into the Yankees’ system to improve his arm strength.
Wells also caught five innings of a one-run ball by Michael King on Sunday. The right-hander, who is trying to establish himself as a starter after a few years in the Yankees bullpen, went out of his way to praise Wells’ work after throwing him the first time.
“He had a great game plan,” King said unprompted. “He’s phenomenally adaptable and a really great communicator. We had a lot of conversations between innings about what we thought they were doing, what they were sitting on and what sequences they could use. I loved working with him.”
Tommy Kahle, who threw two perfect innings after King, also used the word “loved” to describe working with Wells. Luis Severino highlighted the backstop’s crucial role on Saturday, while Carlos Rodón, who threw Wells during a rehab session, said the catcher had a “great” debut behind the plate on Friday.
Clay Holmes, whose sinker can challenge unknown catchers, used the word “seamless” to describe the newcomer.
“His goals were good. He took the ball well,” Holmes told the News after throwing Wells for the first time this weekend. “He wasn’t really superior to the Sinker.”
King also noted that Wells had no trouble with Holmes’ sinker.
“He makes his sinker not look so good and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?'” King said, praising Wells for the reception. “But it’s just that Wells is so good back there that he knew how to deal with the staff and he put on a really good game.”
Every pitcher who was asked about Wells had only positive things to say. Learning of this and King’s approval on Sunday, Wells thanked the pitching team for a strong weekend.
“They’ve done a really good job communicating with me what they’re trying to do,” he said. “It made my job a lot easier because I could name the pitches that brought them great success.
“It gives me the most confidence in the world when the guys on the hill can trust me from the start.”
That so many pitchers praised Wells’ catch may come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed his career.
The defense of the Arizona product has since been criticized The Yankees selected Wells 28th overall in 2020. and there was much speculation about a change of position. Wells is considered a batter-first candidate and has been adamant about remaining a catcher.
Kyle Higashioka, a veteran catcher who starts glove first, said he couldn’t quite pull off Wells.
“People keep saying that, but I don’t really get it,” Higashioka told the News about the defensive question marks. “I can’t think of anything.”
Higashioka added that “the most important thing” is how a catcher handles a pitching baton. He thinks Wells is “doing it well.”
Swanson said that Higashioka, who could be ousted by Wells after this season, has served as a “sounding board” for his younger teammate. He has helped Wells learn about pitcher preferences and the specific terms they like to use.
This information helped Wells as he held pregame conversations with Yankees pitchers throughout the weekend. While Swanson noted that the team’s advanced preparation and game-setting processes at the MLB level are similar to those at Triple-A, Wells made sure to take notes, ask questions, and chat with pitchers, coaches, and supervisors. He also offered feedback during games and asked for feedback.
“You can tell he’s very interested in it,” Holmes said. “We talked before the game, just about my likes and things I liked and stuff like that. You could tell he was very well prepared. Basically, he felt like he was in control. Nothing really felt accelerated.
Swanson added, “He’s very capable of taking information and feedback and making adjustments quickly, which is a really good trait.”
While Wells’ weekend went smoothly on defense, it was his preparation that caught Aaron Boone’s attention.
“He has a presence. He’s thirsty for it,” Boone said. “He takes great pride in preparing for the opposition line-up not only as a batsman but also as a catcher. He seems to have that passion, that kind of baseball that a catcher needs to have. And I think that after he got back into spring training and he’s off to a good start now relative to some experienced pitchers and some really good pitchers.”
Of course, Wells, whose spring training was suspended due to a fractured rib, has yet to make progress.
After a weekend in the majors, he doesn’t know everything he needs to know about his new pitchers and he needs some refinement. When asked what Wells needs to work on the most, Swanson spoke about his framing, a skill the Yankees have prioritized behind the plate in recent years.
“Everyone is good at this ability, so the margins are extremely small and the adjustments are often very, very good,” Swanson said. “An inch here, a slight adjustment in timing maybe not that early, the ability to trust your eyes and process information and really slow things down. Small tweaks to how he loads the gauntlet for a given pitch. So all very, very small things that are very, very common discussions that we have with all catchers. But from the first to the second day he made a big leap.
“I have no doubt that he will continue to make progress in this regard.”
Wells will also be put to the test if and when he gets a chance to catch up with Gerrit Cole.
the ace, looking for a Cy Young award, is scheduled to make his next start Tuesday when the Yankees begin a series with the Tigers. Boone said Ben Rortvedt is likely to catch this game — no surprise — but the captain didn’t entirely rule out the possibility of Wells hosting Cole, who can be particularly picky when it comes to his catchers.
“I don’t know what to see. I mean, I just want to make sure you put the boys in the best position to succeed,” Cole told News Sunday when asked what he would like to see from a young catcher like Wells. “He starts tonight so he has three games in a row. Maybe watching the game will make him better for the next game, as far as I’m concerned, or for the rest of the series against Detroit. I think that’s probably the better question for the manager. But I just give when the guys prepare and give 100 percent, which we never really have a problem with.”
Though it doesn’t look like Wells will catch Cole just yet, the right-hander added that the newcomer “looks appropriate” and blended in straight away. That feeling echoed throughout the Houston Yankees clubhouse.
Although the sample is small, Wells’ fishing career appears to be off to a good start. Last but not least, it is clear that his craft means a lot to him.
On Sunday he even went so far as to say that his defense is more important to him than his offense.
“Being able to go back there and have the game in my hands and really call the shots on every play is very important to me,” Wells said. “The ability to make the right decisions at the right time helps us win ball games. That’s why catching is definitely more important to me when I go out behind the plate.
“I mean, batting is definitely important, but getting back there, making outs and controlling the pitching team, that’s my number one goal.”
https://www.twincities.com/2023/09/05/after-a-small-sample-austin-wells-defense-receives-rave-reviews/ After a small pick, Austin Wells’ defense gets rave reviews – Twin Cities