The Texas Rangers currently have five picks in the 2020 MLB Draft, and while it is possible they could trade for a competitive balance pick from another team, it appears most likely they will have just their regular selections in each round. Their first pick is at #14 overall, and then they pick at #50, #87, #117, and #147.
In the run up to the draft, we will be highlight some players who are potential Ranger draft picks. Last year no one aside from Josh Jung that we wrote about was actually picked by the Rangers, as we mostly looked at prep players for their later picks, and they went college-heavy early in the draft for the first time in years. This year, the uncertainty over whether they will emphasize college players again or go back to prep players would make it hard to narrow down the list of potential prospects even in a normal year — the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic having shut down amateur play creates even more uncertainty about potential picks.
On the plus side, the lack of games and actual new scouting going on means that there’s going to be a lot less updated information, so a write-up I do now will likely still be more or less valid a month from now.
In any case, in the coming days, we will be doing write-ups of potential Texas Ranger draft picks. Today we take a look at University of Arizona catcher Austin Wells.
Austin Wells is a 6’2”, 220 lb. lefthanded hitting catcher at the University of Arizona. Wells’ parents both were athletes at UofA — his father, Greg, played baseball for the Wildcats, while his mother, Michelle, was a gymnast. A draft-eligible sophomore, Wells played high school ball at Bishop Gorman (which also produced Joey Gallo) in Las Vegas, Wells was ranked #206 on the Baseball America board in 2018 after an elbow injury dropped him significantly. Wells was selected in the 35th round of the 2018 draft by the New York Yankees, but didn’t sign.
The reports on Wells have shifted significantly from two years ago — coming out of high school, Wells was described by Baseball America has having “arm strength and obvious catch-and-throw talent,” through the elbow injury that dropped him on boards also limited his ability to throw at all in his senior year. Now, there are a lot more questions about his ability to stay behind the plate due to questions about his blocking and receiving ability, and his arm strength hasn’t come back to pre-injury levels.
While there are concerns about Wells’ defense, there don’t appear to be worries about his bat. Wells gets good marks for his approach at the plate, has a quality hit tool and has plus power. He strikes out a fair amount, but also walks a lot, and has a good overall offensive game that means that he is a potential first rounder even if a team doesn’t think he will stick behind the plate.
Baseball America has Wells at #21 on their pre-draft top 500, with praise for the bat but questions about where he will end up defensively. MLB Pipeline puts Wells at #27 on their board, also praising the bat and fretting about the glove. Fangraphs has Wells at #40 on their board, and have him listed as a first baseman, not a catcher. The same is true at ESPN, where Kiley McDaniel has Wells at #53 on his board and at 1B. Keith Law puts Beeter at #21 on his board, though he notes he may have to move off of catcher.
Keith Law has Wells falling out of the first round in his mock draft. Jonathan Mayo’s mock draft has the Oakland A’s taking Wells (who seems like a very A’s-y player) at #26. Kiley McDaniel’s mock draft has Wells going to the Kansas City Royals at #32. Wells goes to Oakland in the most recent Baseball America mock draft, while the latest version of the Jim Callis mock draft has Wells going to the New York Yankees at #28.
If teams were confident in Wells’ defensive abilities behind the plate, he would be a top ten pick — catchers who can hit are a rare commodity. As can be seen by the fact that he’s already listed as a 1B by a couple of the ranking folks, there’s a lot of skepticism in many quarters that he will end up as a catcher. That said, there appear to be some folks who believe he has a decent chance of sticking, and if one of those teams is picking in the middle of the first round, Wells makes a lot of sense for them.
That’s particularly the case given that even those who think he’ll have to change positions have him as a late first/early second round type player. Wells has caught extensively for Arizona and in the Cape Cod League, but has also played first base and the outfield, so teams have seen him at a variety of positions. He’s got some athleticism, as well, which would help in regards to him providing some defensive value at first base or a corner outfield spot if he has to change positions.
Like Clayton Beeter, who we wrote up yesterday, Wells is a draft-eligible sophomore, and thus has a little more leverage than your average college player, which makes him perhaps a little less safe of a pick than your run-of-the-mill four year college draft pick. Wells is also younger than your run-of-the-mill four year college draft pick, not turning 21 until July. After slashing .353/.462/.552 with 46 walks and 43 Ks as a freshman for Arizona and .308/.389/.526 in 180 plate appearances in the wood bat Cape league, Wells got off to a red hot start to 2020, slashing .375/.527/.589 with 17 walks against 14 Ks in 74 plate appearances before the season was canceled. Wells could decide that, if the choice is between second round money or returning to school and having the opportunity to improve his draft stock with improved defense, continuing to rake, or both, he would rather take his chances in 2021. That said, in times of uncertainty, a guaranteed payday is going to be hard to turn down.
We know that the Rangers love to collect catchers. Wells also would seem to fit the profile of the type of hitter that the Rangers have been prioritizing acquiring over the last year. Wells is someone I could see the Rangers grabbing with either of their first two picks, and adding to their stable of catching prospects.