If there’s one prospect that is flying under the radar as a potential difference maker down the road for the Orioles, it might just be Delmarva starting pitcher Alex Wells. You might know him as the “Australian prospect”, but his birth country is far from the most intriguing tidbit about Wells.
After being signed before the 2016 season, Wells has pitched in 128 innings and has toppled the competition with ease – at least on paper. His WHIP through 25 starts sits at just 0.97, paired with a 2.18 ERA.
The left-hander was kind enough to chat with us last week, in a talk where he emphasized the most important aspect of his game – keeping the ball low in the zone and inducing weak contact.
“It’s definitely important, just getting ahead and keeping the ball down in the zone to create the groundball outs,” Wells said. “Getting groundball outs early in counts helps you go deep in the ballgame, and I’ve found out that it’s been successful for me. Every time I keep the ball down in the zone, I’m getting early groundball outs, early outs in counts, which is really been effective for me.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Wells’ game is spotlighted in his strikeout to walk ratio, which is about as lopsided (in a good way) as you’ll see for a Minor League prospect, especially at the low-A levels. He’s fanned 98 batters and walked just 17, the latter being the eye-popping statistic that he’ll most definitely be known for as his progression rolls along.
In 2017 at Delmarva, the Australian-born 20-year-old has walked just eight batters in 65.1 innings pitched. That’s a number that will keep him on a fast-track to the higher levels even without high strikeout totals.
“I’ve been working on [command] the past few years, ever since my first year in spring training,” Wells said. “I really worked on the command inside and outside, just trying to mix it up both in and out and making sure that I’m staying through the ball, pitching to the glove and trying to keep the hitters off balance in and out of the zone.”
The young Orioles prospect was selected to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, an obvious choice. Amongst qualifiers, Wells is fourth in the league in ERA (2.20) and is far and away the best arm on the Shorebirds roster. He hasn’t missed a step since being advanced from Aberdeen in 2016, and it might not be long before he proves to the Orioles that he’s already outgrowing full-A ball.
“Building off the Aberdeen season last year, I’m just doing the same routine and getting ready like I was last year and taking all of the experience I had last year and taking it out on the mound here in Delmarva,” he said of his continued growth. “The biggest difference is definitely not getting away with mistakes like I did last year, definitely having to keep the ball down in this league. You have some big power guys in this league and if you make a mistake, they make you pay for it.”
Wells emphasized keeping the ball down in the zone has his most crucial key to success multiple times, but the mental ability to ignore runners on base might be his most noteworthy trait showcased in 25 MiLB games. He doesn’t own firepower on the mound to blow opposing hitters away, but his finesse seems to be significantly advanced.
Said Wells: “It’s been huge for me to, say if I give up a base hit, just to get ahead of the next guy and trying to induce a ground ball or early weak contact to the infield to get a double play. Or just a weak fly ball straight to the outfielder so the guy can’t move up a base... that’s been really effective for me.”
Moving forward, the young Orioles prospect isn’t looking to make many changes to his game. He’s been locked in on keeping the ball down in the zone, finishing pitches and inducing the early-count grounders that he considers key to his ongoing success.
He won’t turn heads with his fastball – Orioles Hangout noted in May that his fastball velocity was sitting around 86-90 – but he’s only 20 years old and in his first full season in pro ball. And even if he doesn’t develop significant velocity, there’s been plenty of successful big-leaguers who don’t own blow-away stuff.
Wells is unique as a pitcher, young and very intelligent. For now, he’s capitalizing on each outing and building as 2017 rolls along. It’s possible that he’ll be pitching in Camden Yards sooner rather than later, a dream that could be a reality if his current path continues.
“I always take a step back to think about where I have come from and how far I’ve come in my baseball career so far,” he said. “It’s been an incredible journey and hopefully one day I get to wear the Orioles uniform in the big leagues.”