By Joe Pantorno
The New York Yankees have been enamored with Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber in recent years. While they’ve been unable to acquire him on the trade market, it looks like they did the next best thing and drafted a player that emulates him.
The Yankees selected University of Arizona catcher Austin Wells with the 28th-overall pick of the 2020 MLB Draft on Wednesday night, finally nabbing the prospect who didn’t sign with the club in 2018 after being chosen in the 35th round.
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, the 20-year-old left-hander was coming off a stellar first year at Arizona in which he slashed 353/.462/.552 (1.104 OPS) with five home runs, 60 RBI and more walks (45) than strikeouts (43) in 56 games.
Those numbers earned him Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors before he headed to the famed Cape Cod League last summer where he batted .308 with seven home runs in 156 at-bats.
In 15 games this season at Arizona — before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak — Wells was slashing .375/.527/.589 with two home runs and 14 RBI.
His build along with his power has people immediately comparing the prospect to Chicago’s Schwarber, who launched a career-best 38 home runs last season.
But Wells has shown an early ability to hit the ball to all parts of the field, something Schwarber was unable to consistently do until last season — his fifth in the big-leagues.
Defensively, though, there are immediate concerns.
At the surface, Yankees fans might be scratching their heads as to why the organization opted to go with another catcher while Gary Sanchez is behind the plate, especially after they selected catcher Anthony Siegler two years ago in the first round.
Initial scouting suggests that Wells’ defense is inconsistent behind the plate, meaning he could make the shift to first base — a position currently in question as Luke Voit, Mike Ford, and possibly Miguel Andujar could be competing for starts in 2020.
Or, he could be thrown into a crowded corner outfielder mix that will stand to include Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and possibly Clint Frazier by the time Wells is ready to make the jump to the majors.