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Orioles prospect season in review: Alex Wells

The 20-year-old Aussie put together a ridiculous season on his way to being named the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Despite being owned by Peter Angelos himself, the Orioles made a rare international signing back in September of 2015. While most teams in the league were focusing their efforts and cash in Latin America, the Orioles signed 18-year-old Alex Wells out of Australia for $300k. It was an unheralded signing at the time, as is the case with a majority of international deals, but so far Wells has proven to be well worth the investment.

Despite coming from Down Under, Wells features a smooth, overhand delivery. His ability to easily repeat his mechanics helps him with his number one trait as a prospec- control. With a fastball that sits in the upper 80’s and rarely gets above 90-91, Wells has put up stellar numbers in the minors thanks to a spectacular gift to command the baseball.

After coming onto the scene from Australia in 2016 as a virtual unknown, Wells pitched to an ERA of only 2.15 over 13 starts. Most impressively, he only walked nine batters over 62.2 innings on his way to being named Aberdeen’s Most Valuable Player.

This year, Wells was promoted to Delmarva and essentially continued with a season nearly identical to the one he had in 2016 despite the jump in competition. That’s good.

Over 25 starts in 2017, Wells tossed 140 innings with an ERA of 2.38 and a WHIP of 0.91. At one point, he went through the entire month of July without surrendering a single earned run or a walk. Over the course of the season, the 20-year-old struck out 113 and walked only 10.

I know he’s an Orioles pitcher, but you read that right. In fact, Wells didn’t walk a batter over his final 68 innings, which is pretty ridiculous when you consider that Chris Tillman walked 47 guys in only 87 innings this year.

Wells finished 2017 with a K:9 of 7.3 and a BB:9 of only 0.6. To put his BB:9 into perspective, only one qualified major league pitcher has posted a walks per nine ratio that low in the last 100 years. Delmarva is by no means the big leagues, and it’s definitely not a fair comparison when accounting for major league batters, but that number is rare.

After being ranked the Orioles’ 28th-ranked prospect following his 2016 campaign, Wells has jumped up to 16th in the most recent rankings from MLB Pipeline, who had this to say:

Though Wells has some physical projection remaining, he's unlikely to gain much in the way of velocity. But with a solid three-pitch mix and advanced feel for his craft, Wells could develop into at least a back-end starter at the highest level.

While Alex Wells has been dominant to this point in his young career, therein lies his biggest problem. Despite only being 20 years old, Wells is already listed at 6’1” and 190 lbs. When it comes to his velocity going forward, this isn’t a scenario where scouts can throw out their favorite word, “projectable.”

That being said, Wells has already developed a solid change-up and his curveball is improving. With further development to both, his three-pitch mix and pinpoint control could help him develop into a third/fourth starter if all the cards fall into place. The fact that he’s left-handed certainly doesn’t work against him either.

Considering his sub-optimal velocity, scouts and fans will be closely tracking Wells’s strikeout and home run rates going forward to see if he can keep up this success as the competition improves.

His K:9 rate in the minors has consistently sat above 7, but that’s right about the lower limit of what scouts will want to see. Simply put, while there are some rare exceptions, you have to be able to miss bats to make it in the major leagues.

Similarly, his 1.0 home runs per nine innings in low A ball is something to watch as well. A rate of 1.0 isn’t so bad in the major leagues, but it’s a little different when Wells is playing in a league in which only one player hit more than 17 homers in 2017. Hopefully he can continue to avoid hard contact with the help his exceptional command.

Dan Duquette had some interesting comments when speaking on MASN after presenting Wells with the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award earlier this month. While the Duquette quote bot can find ways to hype up any meaningless signing, he proclaimed on live tv, “hopefully this time next year we’ll see him [Wells] out here pitching for the Orioles.”

Now I don’t think that’ll be the case considering Wells is likely to start the year in Frederick but you never know. For what it’s worth, MLB Pipeline has Wells’s estimated arrival in 2020. At the very least, it shows the front office is pretty excited about Alex Wells. After such a dominant 2017 campaign, it’s easy to see why.