With the regular seasons for their full-season minor league affiliates coming to an end, the Orioles can look back on what players have accomplished to start handing out some awards. Lefty pitching prospect Alex Wells is first up, with the Orioles announcing on Tuesday that Wells is the winner of the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the 2017 season.
Wells spent the season pitching for the Delmarva Shorebirds. The 20-year-old, who the O's signed out of Australia, was up to the challenge of his first year in full-season ball, with a 2.38 ERA over 25 starts. What's most impressive about Wells is that he carried a sub-1.00 WHIP for the entire season.
A large part of that low WHIP is because Wells had such impeccable command that his walk rate was almost nonexistent. At the big league level, O's starters can hardly go two innings without walking a batter. Wells finished the season having gone 68 consecutive innings without issuing a walk. That included his last 11 starts of the season. Over the whole year, he walked just 10 of the 549 batters he faced.
A lack of walks is not new for Wells. Last year with Aberdeen, he walked just nine batters in 62.2 innings. That sounds like a lot when compared to the 2017 edition of Wells, but it's not at all.
The pitching prospects that get the most attention across baseball are the ones that can rack up gaudy strikeout numbers. That's not Wells. Still, he racked up 113 strikeouts across his 140 innings, which is respectable enough when considering that he hardly ever issues a free pass.
There's a long way to go from the South Atlantic League to MLB. A-ball is just A-ball, after all. But Wells had a triumphant season and he's earned the honors. We can worry about what he'll do at another level next year.
In their most recent update, the folks at MLB Pipeline proclaimed that Wells was merely the #16 prospect in the O's system, offering this scouting capsule:
Wells pitches with an average fastball, operating in the upper 80s and scraping 90 mph, but the pitch plays up due to his ability to command it to both sides of the plate. His changeup registers in the low 80s with good fading action, and he sells it with fastball-like arm action. Wells also has made strides with his curveball, a 12-to-6 downer in the mid-70s, since turning pro, giving him a quality third pitch, and his whole arsenal plays up due to his above-average control.
It's that lack of velocity that keeps Wells from getting more attention. The sky is not the limit for someone whose fastball is "scraping 90," even when you consider that lefties can generally get by with a little bit less velocity. It's the kind of arsenal where people will always be doubting him and he'll have to prove himself at every level. So far, so good. I look forward to seeing what he can do.
Wells will receive the award prior to Tuesday's game against the Yankees.