Austin Wells was resolute on the matter.
“I’m a catcher. I want to be a catcher,” Wells said Thursday afternoon on a conference call, speaking the day after the Yankees made him their first-round pick (28th overall) in the MLB Draft.
But the lefthanded-hitting 20-year-old, who some scouts consider one of the top slugging prospects in the draft with a swing that could be a perfect fit for the rightfield porch at Yankee Stadium but whose defense may need work, was equally resolute on another matter.
“I’m definitely willing to do whatever it takes to get to the big leagues,” Wells added. “So if it’s at another position, then I’ll just hit home runs at Yankee Stadium and play wherever they need me to. Being a catcher’s what I want to do but [I’ll go] wherever my bat gets me to the big leagues quickest for sure.”
And that bat consistently draws plenty of praise.
Wells, whom the Yankees actually took in the 35th round in the 2018 draft out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas but were not able to sign as he chose to honor his commitment to Arizona, slashed .353/.462/.552 in 2019 and became the first Wildcat to be named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. He slashed .375/.527/.589 in 15 games this year before the college season was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are very happy to get Austin Wells,” said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' longtime vice president of amateur scouting. “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.”
And while his future might well be somewhere other than behind the plate – some scouts project him as a corner outfielder or first baseman – progressing behind the plate, which includes improving his arm, is a priority for Wells.
“I am definitely continuing to improve every day,” Wells said of criticisms of his defense. “Even through these tough times that we’re going through, I think that’s definitely been one of my main focuses and will continue to be one of my main focuses going forward, especially if I want to get through the minor leagues quickly and make an impact on the big league club.”
Wells is represented by Scott Boras but expects to sign. He is in a state of limbo for his next step, as are other drafted players, because there will not be any minor league seasons due to COVID-19.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Wells said. “I haven’t received any information saying what I’m going to be doing or where I’m going to be going.”
Wells joked about growing up in Las Vegas a Red Sox fan with multiple family and friends also Red Sox fans.
“Everybody’s mind changed last night after hearing (my) name called,” he said with a laugh. “Definitely a big Yankee fan now.”
Yanks select Hauver
With their third-round pick (99th overall), the Yankees selected Trevor Hauver, a lefthanded-hitting second baseman out of Arizona State. Hauver is 6-foot, 205 and can hit for average and power.
In the fourth round (129th overall), they took Beck Way, a 6-4 200-pound righthander out of Northwest Florida State College.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s draft was just five rounds, a cost-cutting measure implemented by the league, with rounds 2-5 taking place Thursday night.
The Yankees had three picks overall, having had to forfeit second- and fifth-round picks as a result of signing free agent Gerrit Cole.
After the draft, as part of an earlier agreement reached with the Players Association, teams will be allowed to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players at a maximum of $20,000 per player, something the Yankees are expected to be quite active in.