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Yankees Draft Profile: Austin Wells

Before this year, the Yankees hadn’t taken a collegiate bat in the first round since 2015. Austin Wells, this year’s first rounder and 28th overall selection, broke the mold. The last college hitter was Kyle Holder, the 30th selection back in 2015. Of course, Holder was and still is a glove-first prospect. Wells is the polar opposite.

MLB’s draft is always volatile, but it’s especially so after the first handful of picks. So unsurprisingly, Wells comes with warts. The big one: his defense behind the plate. Sure, Wells can really hit and his offensive profile could work elsewhere. For now though, he’s a catcher and the Yankees should exhaust that possibility until it’s no longer feasible. With that, let’s dig deeper into the soon-to-be 21 year-old’s profile.


Wells first caught the Yankees’ eye during his high school years at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. As you likely know by now, the Yankees selected him in the 35th round of the 2018 draft, but didn’t sign him. Don’t let his draft position deceive you: Wells was the 206th ranked draft prospect by Baseball America that year. Further, BA noted that “He would have been significantly higher up the board if healthy”, alluding to an elbow injury that precluded Wells from throwing much in front of scouts for almost a year.

Instead of going pro, the six-foot-one, 200 pound catcher followed his parents footsteps and went to Arizona University. As a freshman, the catcher started all 56 team games and hit .353/.462/.552, walked more than he struck out, and earned PAC-12 Freshman of the Year honors.

Wells didn’t miss a beat after his freshman season ended. He transitioned from metal to wood bats at the Cape Cod League and continued to turn heads. At the season’s conclusion, the catcher was awarded the league’s Outstanding Prospect award.

Even though COVID-19 wrecked 2020 baseball, Wells made the most of his limited sophomore season. In 13 games, Wells added more power and more walks, all the while striking out less often than taking a free pass. He posted an impressive .354/.516/.604 triple-slash in the curtailed season.

What the scouts say

Wells is unquestionably a bat-first prospect. Each and every publication basically says a variation of this: Wells can really hit, but where will he fit defensively?

Baseball America boasted Wells’s outstanding approach and plus raw power, but knocked his ability to receive. The Athletic’s Keith Law stated that he can hit well to all fields (even though he’s pull oriented), but also called him a below-average defender. Further, Law relayed that scouts don’t think he has any chance to remain behind the dish. MLB Pipeline praised his power to all fields, good timing, and simplicity at the plate but has concerns about his inconsistent throwing. As we learned in our draft preview, Wells has a history of arm trouble.

On the bright side, it sounds like Wells could play elsewhere in the field competently. We often see bat-first catchers switch to first base or designated hitter. However, Wells actually may not be limited to those spots thanks to his athleticism. Other possibilities include either of the outfield corners. Still, those positions are less forgiving offensively than catcher, so he’ll really need to live up to his offensive billing to make any of those positions work.

Of course, the Yankees should and will give him every opportunity to catch. In an interview with the YES Network’s Jack Curry, Yankees’ Director of Domestic Amateur Scouting Damon Oppenheimer had this to say about Wells’s future in the field:

“He can probably play another position besides catcher…but he’s really turning himself into a good catcher and we had our catching people look at him and really spend a lot of time on it. Player development looked at a lot of video and they just think they can clean it up and make him tremendous behind the plate.”

Look, nobody expected Opponheimer or the Yankees to concede that its prized draftee probably can’t catch. It’s still the right approach to work with him and give him every chance to catch, of course. Wells will be most valuable if he can stick behind the plate.

Will he sign?

The 28th pick’s slot value is $2,493,000, though all but $100,000 of whatever bonus Wells signs for will be deferred for a couple of years. The draft-eligible sophomore could gamble and return to Tuscon, but all indications are that he’s ready to sign. I don’t anticipate his bonus varying much from the allotment.

My take

The Yankees have made a habit of whiffing on first rounders, so I have to admit I’m typically skeptical of the player the team chooses first — especially when drafting a bat-first prospect whose defensive future is uncertain. I can’t say I was thrilled to find this out about him either, but hey, I guess he’ll fit in with his new organization.

On the bright side, the Wells selection isn’t necessarily a head-scratcher like we’ve come accustomed to. Unlike Anthony Seigler or Cito Culver, the fact that Wells wasn’t a surprise is a positive. Wells was mocked to the Yankees by various sites and was a strong collegiate performer.

Left-handed power and Yankee Stadium go hand in hand, so it’s easy to dream on Wells’s offensive future. If you’re optimistic, maybe there’s a glimmer of hope he sticks behind the plate too. Given everything we’ve read, I can’t help but be doubtful, but there is a reason for some hope in catching guru Tanner Swanson. Maybe Swanson’s wit will rub off on the entire organization and benefit Wells. Should that be the case, Wells could blossom into quite the prospect.


Draft Day 2: Two more picks for the Yankees

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Update, 8:10pm: The Yankees drafted Arizona second baseman Trevor Hauver. Not unlike Wells, he’s a left handed hitter with power but also an uncertain defensive future.

Update, 9:50pm: Beck Way rounds things out for the Yanks at 129. He’s a six-foot-four junior college righty who’ll need to be signed away from LSU.

One pick down, two to go. Tonight, the Yankees will add two more names to the organization when the draft resumes at 5pm eastern. MLB Network and ESPN2 will have live coverage.

The Bombers have the 99th and 129th picks in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. I’ll update this post with more information once those picks are announced. Who will they be? Couldn’t tell ya. Especially now that a number of players I had brief write-ups on in our draft preview are off the board:

  • Carson Tucker: Cleveland, 23rd
  • Jared Shuster: Atlanta, 25th
  • Bobby Miller: Los Angeles Dodgers, 29th
  • Nick Loftin: Kansas City, 32nd
  • Slade Cecconi: Arizona, 33rd
  • Tanner Burns: Cleveland, 36th

J.T. Ginn is the only player remaining from my prospect capsules that hasn’t been drafted, but there’s just about no chance he makes it to the Yankees. In the off chance he does, I’m not so sure the Yankees would be able to fit him and Wells in their draft pool, though I’m certainly no expert.

More to come.

Yankees draft catcher Austin Wells with first round pick

After failing to sign Austin Wells out of high school in 2018, the Yankees selected the draft-eligible sophomore with tonight’s first round pick. He’s a lefty-swinging catcher with plenty of power, though there are concerns about his glovework. Here’s what I wrote for Wells’ prospect capsule in our draft preview yesterday:

Austin Wells, C, Arizona – Video

The Yankees drafted Wells just two years ago out of high school, so there’s clearly some affinity here. He’s a lefty-swinging catcher with lots of power, though there is some uncertainty about his ability to remain behind the plate long-term. Nonetheless, it seems like his power will be able to play at another position should he prove unable to last as a catcher.

There’s quite a bit of skepticism about Wells’ receiving, though one can’t help but wonder if that’s something Tanner Swanson and the organization can fix. On the other hand, arm strength seems to be a problem. Baseball America notes that he has a record of elbow issues dating back to high school while Eric Longenhagen’s brief report states that Wells had shoulder surgery in the past.

There were two players mocked to the Yankees at various points who didn’t last until the 28th pick. Cleveland drafted Carson Tucker with the 23rd pick, Atlanta took Jared Shuster at 25.

I’ll have a profile on Wells in the coming days.

2020 Yankees Draft Preview: What you need to know

There’s no baseball to be played (at least not yet), but there is still the league’s amateur draft tomorrow. It’s quite a bit different than prior years, though. Bobby gave a good explanation of this year’s nuances.

I’m no draft expert nor will I pretend to be. Thankfully, we have a number of fine publications that do have a sense of what to expect. I’ve done my best to summarize below below.

The Picks

  • First round: 28th selection
  • Third round: 99th selection
  • Fourth round: 129th selection

The Yankees forfeited their second and fifth round picks for signing Gerrit Cole in the offseason. Remember that? Good times. Anyway, the Yanks have a $3,520,000 pool to spend on these picks. $2,493,000 is allocated for the 28th selection. This year’s draftees won’t receive all of that money up front, though. Each pick will receive $100,000 right away, but the remainder of their bonus will be deferred for two years.

Even though the Yankees have only three picks, don’t expect them to stop there. Undrafted players are capped to $20,000, whereas players taken in the tenth round or later (or undrafted) could receive up to $125,000 without it counting against the draft pool. Bobby noted a bunch of late round successes currently on the Yankees right now, so expect a number of other new players in the system in the coming weeks.

Mock Drafts

I’ll continue updating this list for new mock drafts as they’re released. Spoiler: lots of college pitchers incoming.

Prospect Capsules

Bobby Miller, RHP, LouisvilleVideo

Three of the latest mocks have Miller going to the Yanks, so let’s debrief on him first. He’s a big right hander (six-foot-five, 220 pounds) and sits in the upper nineties with plenty of downward action. Miller also features a slider and changeup, with the former having plus potential while the other looks fringey per most publications.

There is some concern about Miller’s delivery. Longenhagen calls his arm action “long” and “atypical” whereas Law noted his high effort delivery and stiff landing. You can definitely see some of that in the video linked above. Nonetheless, Miller holds his velocity deep into starts with his nontraditional mechanics.

Jared Shuster, LHP, Wake ForestVideo

The first thing every site mentions about Shuster is his velocity uptick this year. Shuster had a pretty rough start to his collegiate career and posted a 6.79 ERA in his first two seasons with Wake Forest. But the southpaw blossomed last summer in the Cape Cod League and returned this spring with a low-to-mid nineties heater that touched 97. He also offers a plus changeup and above-average breaking ball per Kiley McDaniel.

The combination of Shuster’s ascension and a shortened collegiate season resulted in his big board ranking all over the map. Keith Law has him as the draft’s 26th best prospect, whereas MLB Pipeline has him all the way down at 77th. Lastly, Schuster was on an earlier version of BA’s mock draft to the Yankees.

Carson Tucker, SS, Mountain Pointe HS (AZ) – Video

Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen writes that Tucker is motivated to sign immediately, even if it means he’ll receive an under slot bonus. Sounds like he’s not going to honor his commitment to the Texas Longhorns. Tucker’s ranked as the Fangraphs’ 56th-best draft prospect and is described as a “Twitchy shortstop with explosive hitting hands who needs a swing overhaul in his lower half”. The 18 year-old Carson is the young brother of Pittsburgh’s Cole Tucker, also a first-rounder from the same high school back in 2014.

Nick Loftin, SS, Baylor University – Video

The Yankees haven’t drafted a collegiate position player in the first round since 2013 (Eric Jagielo), so Loftin would break the mold. Though none of his tools jump off the page, there is one thing he does particularly well: make contact. In three seasons at Baylor (with this year truncated, of course), the right-handed hitter only struck out 7.1 percent of the time.

MLB Pipeline called Loftin “more of a competent than flashy defender” at shortstop. He’s versatile too, having played all around the diamond and in both corner outfield spots. The site pegged him as the draft’s 36th-best prospect.

Slade Cecconi, RHP, Miami – Video

Cecconi was included an an earlier Baseball America mock draft, hence the capsule here. Standing six-foot-four and 212 pounds, Cecconi possesses a coveted frame for a starting pitcher. He’s a draft-eligible sophomore who Baseball America says could have gone higher had the season not been cut short due to COVID-19, though that can be said about others. Here’s what BA had to say about its 32nd-best draft prospect:

“At his best he runs his fastball up into the upper 90s with impressive life and has a slider, cutter and changeup that all flash plus. On top of the quality of Cecconi’s pitches, scouts like his frame and strike-throwing ability but believe he gets too much of the plate at times.”

J.T. Ginn, RHP, Mississippi State – Video

Ginn had Tommy John surgery this spring, but as we know with Clarke Schmidt, that hasn’t scared the Yankees away before. The righty was formerly the Dodgers’ first rounder in 2018 out of high school but did not sign.

Despite surgery, Ginn has enticing stuff. He offers a high velocity plus fastball, a wipeout slider, and a developing changeup. That changeup has even flashed plus at times according to MLB Pipeline and Keith Law.

Austin Wells, C, Arizona – Video

The Yankees draft Wells just two years ago out of high school, so there’s clearly some affinity here. He’s a lefty-swinging catcher with lots of power, though there is some uncertainty about his ability to remain behind the plate long-term. Nonetheless, it seems like his power will be able to play at another position should he prove unable to last as a catcher.

There’s quite a bit of skepticism about Wells’ receiving, though one can’t help but wonder if that’s something Tanner Swanson and the organization can fix. On the other hand, arm strength seems to be a problem. Baseball America notes that he has a record of elbow issues dating back to high school while Eric Longenhagen’s brief report states that Wells had shoulder surgery in the past.

Tanner Burns, RHP, Auburn – Video

Unlike other college arms included here, Burns is not a big guy on the mound. He stands six feet and 215 pounds and doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but has a pretty high baseline per Baseball America. Wells can dial it up to 97, though Baseball America says he sits in the 92-94 range. He’s got above-average secondaries and good command as well. One drawback: shoulder soreness during his sophomore campaign. That, in combination with his small size, has raised durability concerns.

MLB Pipeline notes that some scouts have likened him to ex-Yankee Sonny Gray based on frame. One other Yankees connection: the team picked him with its 37th round selection in 2017.

Recent Draft History

If the above mock drafts tell us anything, it’s that the Yankees’ recent draft history isn’t particularly indicative of what’s to come on Wednesday. The team has taken prep bats in each of the last two years with its first round pick: prep shortstop Anthony Volpe last summer and backstop Anthony Seigler a year prior.

Instead of a high schooler, a college arm seems all but certain to join the system. The Yankees have taken a couple of collegiate arms recently in Schmidt (2017) and James Kaprielian (2015). Before that, the Yankees hadn’t taken a college pitcher since the they went on a run of Ian Kennedy (2006), Joba Chamberlain (2006), Andrew Brackman (2007), and Jeremy Bleich (2008). Joba and Bleich were supplemental first rounders for what it’s worth.

2020 MLB Amateur Draft Primer: Order, Rule Changes, & Yankee Roster Implications

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Wednesday is the first day of the 2020 MLB Amateur Draft. Not counting the Winter Meetings/free agency, this is the first real baseball event since Game 7 of the World Series last October. Pretty exciting!

I am definitely looking forward to having something to cover again, truthfully. Baseball is a huge part of my life and I miss it a lot, so it will be nice to talk about something other than a labor fight. To that end, Derek is working up a thorough overview of mock drafts and players to whom the Yankees are connected. Keep an eye out for that before Wednesday, as that will get you up to speed.

Before that, though, I wanted to put together a brief overview with some top-line reminders about this draft, the COVID-19 related changes, and its potential long-term ramifications. Let’s get to it.

The Basics

Embed from Getty Images

This will be the most bizarre draft in MLB history. To begin with, obviously, it will be an all-virtual affair – no in-person scouting, no draft rooms, and no physical gathering for the draft. That’s all because of a pandemic that you may or may not have heard about.

The virtual set-up will take place over two days:

  • The first round, as well as the competitive balance round, will be televised beginning at 7 pm on MLB Network on Wednesday. That will total 37 picks.
  • The remaining 123 picks (more on that in a minute) will be be shown on Thursday, beginning at 5 pm. This will also be broadcast on MLB Network.

The Yankees will make a total of 3 picks in 2020. The will make selections in the 1st round (28th selection), 3rd round (99th selection), and 4th round (129th selection). The Yankees lost their 2nd and 5th round draft picks as a penalty for signing Gerrit Cole, which is a thing that they did, as easy as it may be to forget. Like I said, Derek will get you up-to-speed on the relevant players, but this is where they’re slotted right now.

2020 Rule Changes

If you couldn’t tell, there were some pretty drastic changes made to the draft this season. Remember the end of March? It feels like 10 years ago, honestly, but that’s when the MLB and MLBPA agreed to their original framework for a 2020 season. Buried in the agreement was the changes to the Amateur Draft. They’re drastic. Here are all of the relevant changes:

  • It is only five rounds. (For context: it was 40 rounds last year, was 50 not too long ago, and historically went until teams decided they didn’t want to pick any longer.)
  • The deadline for players to sign is August 1, not July 10.
  • Signed players can receive a maximum of $100,000 in 2020, with the remainder of their bonus to be paid out over 2 years.
  • Undrafted players can earn a maximum of $20,000 (previously $125,000) in 2020.
  • A team can sign an unlimited number of such players, but cannot talk to them until 9 am on June 14.

Those are the basics, anyway. It’s a dramatically different situation than it was a year ago. These changes will have long-term impacts. It will weaken the depth of MiLB, threaten the very existence of lower minors teams, and potentially drive top-tier athletes to other sports. It’s especially worrying given the fact that MLB and MiLB are fighting over the structure of the Minor Leagues – many of these changes feels like tools to accomplish those goals – but potentially unavoidable given, well, everything.

It bums me out, but there’s nothing we can do about it. The changes are the changes, and no amount of whining by me will make them any different.

Yankees Selected After Round 5

Finally, and as a bit of a tangent, I felt like doing a bit of quick digging into the Yankees’ current 40-man roster to see how many players were selected in the 5th round or later. It turns out that it applies to a full 20% of the 40-man – and a higher percentage of drafted players generally.

Here is the full list, in alphabetical order:

  • Chad Green: 11th round, 2013 (by the Detroit Tigers)
  • Ben Heller: 22nd round, 2013 (by Cleveland)
  • Kyle Higashioka: 7th round, 2008, (by the New York Yankees)
  • Jonathan Holder: 6th round, 2014 (by the New York Yankees)
  • Mike King: 12th round, 2016 (by the Miami Marlins)
  • Brooks Kriske: 6th round 2016 (by the New York Yankees)
  • Mike Tauchman: 10th round, 2013 (by the Colorado Rockies)
  • Luke Voit: 22nd round, 2013 (by the St. Louis Cardinals)

Interesting mix! Conservatively, half of these players figure to be a major part of the 2020 roster. Green is a pivotal part of the bullpen. Voit is the starting first baseman and a middle-of-the-order bat. Higashioka will be the backup catcher. Tauchman will be a key part of the outfield rotation. Less conservatively, Heller, King, and Holder will be a part of the Scranton Shuffle if nothing else. (Honestly, given the potential for a 50-man roster, they may even be in the Bronx full-time.)

The point is that players selected after round 5 play a big role even on good teams. You could argue that the Yankees have the best roster in MLB and even they have a ton of players from the later rounds. Now, they do also have a #1 overall selection in Gerrit Cole, plus a ton of early round selections, but still. Potentially driving players like these out of the game is bad news for everyone. Let’s just hope that this is a one-year blip on the radar and nothing more.

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