Every handful of years, the Orioles seem to have a new group of pitching prospects — the “cavalry” if you will — that is touted as the ball club’s bright, shining future. But as the seasons have borne out, the Orioles haven’t been able to develop and maintain any top of the rotation candidates over a prolonged period.
But the team has a newfound emphasis on analytics with GM Mike Elias running the show, and there’s another bunch of up-and-coming pitchers, several of whom have broken into the majors in the past season. And still there are others working their way up the organizational ladder as we speak.
The current company of promising hurlers includes 24-year-old left-hander Alexander Wells, who was signed to a minor league contract in 2015 out of Newcastle, Australia. MLB Pipeline lists the 6’ 1”, 195 lb. left-hander as the No. 20 prospect in the Orioles farm system while profiling his three-pitch mix of low-90s fastball, above-average changeup, and developing curve.
With outstanding control, Wells has shown the ability to truly pitch — not just throw — during his time in professional ball. For his four-year minor league career, Wells carries a 1.4 BB/9 and 4.86 K/BB in 86 total games started.
Well’s first season of pro ball came with the formerly short-season Aberdeen Ironbirds, where he started 13 games and put up a 2.15 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 5.56 K/BB ratio. As a 19-year-old in the New York-Penn League, he allowed only one home run and just nine walks over 62.2 innings pitched.
He moved up to low Single-A with Delmarva in 2017, starting 25 games while registering a 2.38 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 11.3 K/BB, and less than a walk per nine innings pitched. Once the 2017 season concluded, Wells was honored as the O’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
The lefty continued his steady ascent in 2018, playing the entire year with high Single-A Frederick. As a Keys rotation member, Wells started 24 games and finished with a 3.47 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 3.06 K/BB ratio. He experienced the highest walk rate of his professional career with 2.2 BB/9, which only sticks out because of his otherworldly numbers in that department up to that point.
Moving on to 2019 — the last season before the minor league shutdown — Wells was part of a stellar pitching staff at Double-A Bowie that had the best ERA and WHIP in the Eastern League.
Wells personally managed 2.95 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 0.7 HR/9, 1.6 BB/9, 6.9 K/9, and 4.38 K/BB over 24 starts and 137.1 innings.
The 2019 Bowie Baysox rotation included Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer, and Bruce Zimmermann. Two of those pitchers are currently on the major league roster. Could Wells be the next the join them?
In case there were still any doubters left, Wells put on a clinic in the Arizona Fall League after Bowie’s season ended. Although only one of his nine appearances came as a starter with the Surprise Saguaros, Wells dazzled with a 0.57 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, and 7.50 K/BB over 15.2 innings.
When the coronavirus struck in 2020 and led to the minor league season’s cancellation, Wells did not appear at the Orioles alternate training site but instead left the States to return to his native Australia. In this piece from Rich Dubroff, Wells discussed training back home with his twin brother Lachlan, who is currently a member of the Twins organization, and mentioned adding a slider to his own repertoire in 2019.
In November of last year, the Orioles added Wells to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He received an invitation to spring training this year but was unable to make a single appearance in the Grapefruit League due to an oblique injury.
Looking at the entirety of Wells’ four-year minor league career (475 total innings), the left-hander has a 2.82 ERA and 1.07 WHIP while averaging 8.2 H/9, 0.9 HR/9, and 7.0 K/9.
MLB Pipeline projects Wells as a potential a middle-of-the-rotation starter, in part due to his reliance on control and lack of overwhelming stuff. But he has shown the ability to get hitters out and manipulate the strike zone to excellent results. So if he can continue to harness those abilities and avoid future injury, he’s got a chance to be sneaky good.
Every single appearance that Wells has made for Oriole affiliates has come as a starting pitcher. The only relief appearances he’s made since signing a minor league deal with Baltimore have come in the Arizona Fall League. So he’s on track to becoming a major league starter. There is always a chance the O’s ease him into the majors with a relief role, but a lot would have to change to make him a full-time reliever in the long term.
Although this spring turned out to be a wash for the young lefty, he still has a realistic chance to reach the majors sometime this year, as long as he can heal up from his oblique scare and get back into prime pitching shape.
We’ve talked repeatedly about the odd pitching landscape that is 2021 and how every MLB club is in the same boat as far as needing to monitor inning counts due to last year’s 60-game schedule and minor league season cancellation.
For those reasons, it’s going to be all hands on deck this summer for the Birds’ pitching staff, and Wells figures to be one of the first reinforcements to be brought up. Of course, that depends on whether his health improves, and whether he’s able to shake off the rust from having not played in quite a while.