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Tyler Wells, Orioles closer of the future?

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The Orioles may have their diamond in the rough in Tyler Wells, proving once again that the Rule 5 draft is a worthwhile endeavor.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Mets
Orioles reliever Tyler Wells turns to check first base against the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It’s that time of the year when players in a rebuild are scrutinized more closely. With only a few weeks left in the season, it’s their last chance to make an impression. Rookie reliever Tyler Wells is rising to the occasion and showing how much he’s grown as a pitcher since coming north with the club from Sarasota. As Mike Elias and company assess the roster to see who’s worth keeping and who isn’t, Wells has proven himself to be a valuable piece for the future.

The O’s took Wells in the second round (17th overall) of last December’s Rule 5 draft. The club actually selected right-handed pitcher Mac Sceroler (first round, fifth pick) before Wells. But Sceroler allowed 12 earned runs in five games (7.2 innings) and spent some time on the injured list before the Birds returned him to Cincinnati on June 26. That leaves Wells as the last Rule 5 pick standing. And he he stands quite tall.

An intimidating presence on the mound, Wells measures in at 6’ 8” and 255 lbs. according to Baseball-Reference. Don’t be fooled by this baby-faced rookie. He’s a beast on the mound.

He looks like he could’ve been a NBA center, or an NFL lineman if he put some more weight on that frame. In fact, Wells lost roughly 60 lbs. after his 2017 season in the Twins’ system, with the help of LaTroy Hawkins.

Wells joined the Orioles this year having not seen game action since 2018. He missed all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, and as we all know, COVID-19 cancelled the minor league season in 2020.

When spring camp broke and Tyler Wells was included on the Birds’ 26 man roster, there was a lot of unknown. Would Wells flounder in his first exposure to big league hitters, or rise to the occasion?

Andrea SK wrote a great piece back in June about Tyler Wells benefitting from a new changeup. Despite a brief injury hiccup, his success has continued into the second half of the season.

There was a transition period for Wells when the regular season began. In April, he gave up seven runs in 9.2 innings. He improved in May, allowing six runs in 11.2 innings. The right-hander really took off in June when his walk and hit totals plummeted, resulting in a 0.63 WHIP in that month.

In the second half of the season, Wells has a 0.29 WHIP over 10.1 innings of work. In that time, he’s allowed two hits and one walk while striking out 10 batters. Yet the injury bug bit Wells in late July. The O’s gave him about three weeks on the IL and he was activated on August 12.

All year, Wells has shown the ability to miss bats by averaging 10.9 K/9. Keeping the ball in the park is one area for improvement, although most of his home runs were allowed in the first two months of the season. His steady improvement has elevated his role in the bullpen.

Like the past few years, the Birds have gone with the closer by committee strategy. Of the pitchers with multiple saves this year, two of them — Cesar Valdez (eight saves) and Paul Fry (two saves) — are currently at Triple-A Norfolk . The former was outrighted on August 22 and the latter was optioned on August 30.

Dillon Tate has two saves this season, but with an 0-6 record and a 5.08 ERA, he’s not the most trustworthy option. Cole Sulser, on the other hand, has six saves, a 3.27 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 11.5 K/9.

Wells may only have two saves, but O’s manager Brandon Hyde has shown increasing confidence in the young right-hander by putting him in more high-leverage situations over time.

The 27-year-old’s first save came on the road at Yankee Stadium on September 5. Wells was summoned to protect a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth against the heart of the Yankees lineup. He responded with a 1-2-3 inning, retiring Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Anthony Rizzo on a couple of fly balls and a pop up.

Last night against the Royals, Wells came on to protect a one run lead with two outs in the ninth. Dillon Tate had just allowed a three-run home run, but Wells induced a routine ground out from Carlos Santana to end the game. Check out Paul Folkemer’s recap of last night’s win here.

With Wells pitching so well at the back of the bullpen, he’s starting to to put down roots. And it’s going to be harder and harder to turn Wells back into a starter, like he was in the minors, if he sustains this success.