With the 28th overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft, the Yankees selected catcher Austin Wells from the University of Arizona on Wednesday night. The pick has a slot value of $2,493,900.
“We are very happy to get Austin Wells today,” Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ vice president of domestic amateur scouting, told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. “We thought he was one of the top hit and power combinations in the Draft. We love his desire and makeup, along with his athleticism. We have known him for years and seen him progress quite a bit behind the plate to allow us to believe he can be an impact guy.”
Wells is a familiar name for those who have followed past Yankees drafts, as the team took him in the 35th round of the 2018 draft from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. He did not sign, and instead honored his commitment to the University of Arizona. MLB Pipeline indicated that Wells’s commitment to Arizona as well as an injury that forced him into “only DHing all year” pushed him to honor his collegiate commitment.
In 2019, Wells hit a torrid .353/.462/.552 with five home runs in 56 games en route to being named PAC-12 Freshman of the Year. He mostly split time between catcher and first base for the Wildcats (40 – C, 26 – 1B), but also had eight appearances in left field and one in right field. He also spent time in the Cape Cod League in 2019, appearing behind the plate, at first base and at all three outfield spots for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. He hit a similarly impressive .308/.389/.526 with seven homers in 42 games. He was named the Cape Cod League’s Outstanding Pro Prospect for his success.
Wells began the season on the watchlist for the 2020 Buster Posey Award, given annually to the best catcher in college baseball. He got off to a scalding start at the plate for Arizona, hitting .375/.527/.589 with two homers in their first 15 games before the coronavirus pandemic shut down their season.
MLB Pipeline ranked Wells as their 27th-best draft prospect, and graded his tools as such:
- HIT – 55
- POWER – 55
- RUN – 40
- ARM – 40
- FIELD – 45
- OVERALL – 50
Here’s their scouting report:
“There is no question that Wells’ bat plays. The left-handed hitter has power to all fields, with good timing and a simple setup at the plate. He has strength and bat speed and controls the bat head well to make loud contact. He does strike out a bit, but he also draws a lot of walks. There are more concerns about where he might play defensively. He’s adequate behind the plate, and while his arm stroke and release are fine, his throws are inconsistent. He is a decent enough athlete to play first or figure things out in left field.
A team taking Wells with its first pick might want to send him out as a catcher until he proves he can’t play the position. His bat should play regardless of his eventual defensive position and he could end up following a Kyle Schwarber type path to the big leagues.”— MLB Pipeline scouting report
The Kyle Schwarber comparison becomes interesting when one looks at the Yankees’ recent drafts and current team composition. Gary Sánchez is the catcher for the near future, and the team selected Anthony Seigler and Josh Breaux in the first and second rounds of the 2018 draft, respectively. The Yankees also have 18-year-old international signee Antonio Gómez in the low minors. Seigler, Gómez and Breaux have had durability concerns since beginning their professional careers, despite being ranked at No. 15, No. 22 and No. 23 in the system respectively by MLB Pipeline.
Wells’s advanced approach at the plate could lead the Yankees to move him from behind the plate in order to allow him to develop faster. The team has clearly invested a lot of draft capital into the catcher position, and is slowly running out of reps for all of those high picks. I doubt the Yankees would push Breaux, Seigler or Wells as high as Double-A before they’re ready. The Yankees appear comfortable seeing if Wells can handle catching at the professional level before relying on his athleticism for a position change.
The Yankees have two more picks in the already abridged version of the 2020 draft, having given up their second- and fifth-round picks as compensation for signing Gerrit Cole in the offseason. They pick at 99th overall in the third round ($587,400) and at 129th overall in the fourth round ($438,700).
All clubs are able to sign an unlimited number of undrafted free agents to bonuses up to $20,000. The Yankees are likely to be aggressive in this market after releasing 45 soon-to-be minor-league free agents. The farm system will be seeing seismic changes as MLB proposes minor-league realignment that would see the Yankees go from nine affiliates to just four.