Arizona catcher Austin Wells has been on my radar since last May, thanks to Brett Gleason, former director of communications for the Rainiers who now works for the University of Arizona, where he saw Wells’s incredible freshman season firsthand. Wells is a second-generation UA player (his parents both were athletes at UA; father Greg was also a baseball player and his mother Michelle, a gymnast) who came out of Vegas’s Bishop Gorman High, also known as Joey Gallo’s alma mater. Wells, who was an Under Armour All-American, was well-known on the showcase circuit, but his family ties to UA and an elbow injury that prevented him from throwing in front of scouts much in his draft year left him undrafted until a courtesy selection from the Yankees in the 35th round.
So off went Austin to the University of Arizona, where he proceeded to hit .353/.462/.552 and earn PAC-12 Freshman of the Year honors, the first Arizona player to win the award. He took his show cross-country, playing for the prestigious Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League, and earned an All-Star nod as well as the “Outstanding Pro Prospect” award; previous winners include Robin Ventura, Chuck Knoblauch, Mark Teixeira, Andrew Miller, and Sean Manaea.
Wells has many tools, but the ability to hit with power to all fields is probably the most alluring one. There’s the possibility for even more power to come in his 6’2” frame, and he has a good sense of the zone despite some higher strikeout numbers; he walked 46 times against 43 strikeouts last season in 221 ABs (and look for that K% to drop even further now that he’s seen a season of conference pitching). Outside of the friendly confines of Arizona and with a wood bat, Wells showed that his bat speed and swing path can create power wherever he may roam:
Wells also has above-average speed and good baserunning instincts—he was 8-for-8 in stolen bases this summer on the Cape, and at Arizona last season he had seven triples, edging out fellow Vegas native Johnny Field for the most in a freshman season.
This dramatic, game-tying triple in the 9th last night was the 5th of the season for freshman Austin Wells. His 5 triples are the most by an Arizona freshman since fellow Las Vegas native Johnny Field also had 5 in 2011. #MLBTrainingGround pic.twitter.com/DgnWb5UcVi— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) May 5, 2019
Defensively, Wells is raw as a catcher due to his high school injury and limited reps at a crowded position in his year at Arizona. However, as a catcher he showcases a strong arm and a quick pop time behind the dish. He’s not as polished defensively as fellow top college catcher Patrick Bailey, but many scouts prefer the upside in Wells’ bat and see promise in the limited action he’s had behind the plate.
In 2020, as he did in 2019, Wells will have to split time behind the dish with fellow catcher Matthew Dyer, who wasn’t selected in last year’s draft as a redshirt sophomore, but Arizona can run Wells out at first base or in a corner outfield spot thanks to his strong arm. Reportedly, though, Wells loves being behind the dish and has baseball IQ and the team-first makeup that’s necessary for a catcher to stick at the position at the next level. Wells also gets high marks as a teammate and is described by many as goofy, humble, thoughtful, and down-to-Earth.
Where Wells goes in the draft will likely depend on how teams see him defensively. His bat has the ideal college profile—demonstrated ability to hit to all fields, outstanding performance in a power conference, raking on the Cape—but defensively he’s almost more of a prep prospect, and teams who can see him at catcher need to be confident in their ability to forecast future performance behind the dish. And while many see more game power to come to match Wells’s raw power, he doesn’t currently have Spencer Torkelson-like power numbers that will prop up the bat no matter where he ends up on the diamond. For Wells to climb into the first half of the top round, he’ll need to either build on his strong freshman campaign at the plate, or demonstrate significant strides taken behind it. If he does both, he might climb even further, perhaps into the crosshairs of the Mariners at #6.