Have you heard the good news? Tyler Wells, that gigantic-bodied, under-the-radar pickup for the Orioles in last year’s Rule 5 draft, is starting to get some notice in Baltimore. This may have to something to do with his 0.00 ERA and 0.17 WHIP in June. Wells, like the Orioles, is having a hot start to the month.
After Wells’ last appearance, two hitless, scoreless innings during Tuesday’s 10-3 spanking of the Mets, O’s announcer Jim Palmer got audibly excited about the 6’8, 255-lb. righty’s improved stuff and high potential. Meanwhile, MASN reported the next day that, after six scoreless innings with one hit and no walks this month, Wells is starting to win his manager’s trust and getting higher-leverage appearances out the bullpen. After the game, manager Brandon Hyde paid Wells a big compliment: “He does have starter stuff.”
Wells’ future role with the team is still uncertain, mainly because his stuff is a work in progress. He carries four pitches: fastball (58% of Wells’ total pitches), changeup (21%), slider (13%), and curveball (8%). Early this year, his fastball command was spotty. He flashed a good slider at times, but inconsistently. But it’s his changeup that has really made the difference for him since he started turning his act around a few weeks ago, sometime in mid-May.
Early on, Wells couldn’t get a handle on the thing, as evidenced by this Statcast heat map, which shows the pitch missing all over the zone.
It’s not that Wells was walking tons of batters early on (he had three walks in April and five in May), but being unable to command his secondary stuff, he would turn to his fastball and become predictable. Now, he’s locating his heater where he wants to, and it’s allowing him to use his changeup to finish off hitters. It’s his preferred putaway pitch (35% of the time), and why not? Batters are whiffing 48.4% of the time against it.
Developing a changeup has made more than one Orioles pitcher’s career (see: Means, John Alan), and on Tuesday night, Wells made full use of it. His most impressive at-bat was probably his first, a three-pitch K of the Mets’ Dominic Smith. Wells buried his first pitch at the top of the strike zone, a 95-mph fastball high and away against the lefty. For his second, he targeted the exact same spot and got a foul for strike two. Then, for the third pitch, he went to the changeup, and here is what happened.
About that heater, too: it seems to be gaining in velocity as the season goes on. Wells has commonly sat around 95 mph with it, but it is perhaps no coincidence that five of his six fastest heaters to have ended an at-bat have come in mid-May or after, including a 97.2-mph one to strike out Cleveland’s Owen Miller on June 6th. Wells’ fastball also clocks in in the 78th percentile in spin, making it an especially deadly offering.
For a fringy Rule 5 pickup who’d never pitched above Double A, barely made the team and struggled with his command for over a month, Wells has turned things around in a major way. Fastball velocity. Fastball spin. Whiff percentage. Walks allowed. Chase rate. Strikeout percentage. In all of these categories, he’s now in in the top-third of the league or better. No more hiding this guy in the bullpen; put him out on the mound and see what he does.
As for Wells’ future role with the team, maybe, like John Means in 2019, Wells will get a chance as a starter this season if he continues to develop his secondary pitches. Hyde hinted at it on Wednesday when he said that Wells was getting “a ton of swings and misses against left-handed hitters, which he will face as a starter,” adding that, to cross that threshold, he’d have to work on his slider, which is still inconsistent.
As CC’s Tyler Young put it the other day, “[Wells’] future could still be that of a run-of-the-mill long-man out of the bullpen, but there is value there, and it has gotten a lot more fun to watch recently.” For now, O’s fans should enjoy the unexpected development of a young thrower with surprisingly good stuff.
And also the accolades coming his way. The other night, Jim Palmer described Wells this way: “Strike-thrower. Game face. Threw 97 the other day.” That’s about right. One of the nicer comments on Wells came from his friend, fellow Rule 5 pick hurler Mac Sceroler, who hadn’t been around Wells since April, when he went on the injured list: “By the time I left in April to now, he’s just a totally different pitcher.”
Expect to keep seeing Wells in higher- and higher-leverage spots, as he refines his pitches and gains his manager’s trust. Maybe he’ll get a chance to start after the All-Star Break. Either way, it’s a nice opportunity for the Rule 5 rookie. Let’s see what he does with it.