This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each player currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.
Today’s featured 40-man player is a recent Rule 5 success story, Tyler Wells, who is a towering 6 feet 8 inches tall and 255 lbs. Imagine stepping into the batter’s box to see that human being perched atop the mound some 60 feet 6 inches away, staring back at you, and getting ready to fire off mid-90s heat.
Wells has got to be one of the tallest pitchers in Orioles history. A few others off the top of my head are Daniel Cabrera (6’ 8”), Mark Hendrickson (6’ 9”), and more recently, Miguel Castro (6’ 7”). And there’s Kam Mickolio (6’ 9”) — part of the trade package for Erik Bedard — who pitched a total of 25 innings over three years in Baltimore and was out of baseball a year later.
Wells was 26 years old for the majority of last season, which is kind of old for a rookie. Maybe that’s also why the O’s gave him a chance to stick around the bigs all year despite zero MLB experience coming in.
Originally a 15th round pick of the Twins in 2016, Wells played three years of college baseball at Cal State San Bernardino before getting drafted. Wells made 35 collegiate starts (38 appearances total) and threw a total of 203.2 innings from 2014-2016. He recorded a 3.84 ERA over that time with a 1.375 WHIP and 2.12 K/BB.
The big righty finished his NCAA career strong, putting up a 2.84 ERA in his final season over 15 starts. That mark was much better than his first two years as a Coyote, when his ERA hovered between four and five.
As you may remember, Wells came to the Orioles on December 10, 2020 as a 2nd round Rule 5 draft selection. The Birds selected right-handed pitcher Mac Sceroler in that same Rule 5 draft, ahead of Wells. But unlike Wells, Sceroler — whose uncle is Ben McDonald — failed to finish the season with Baltimore.
Without many positive things going on with the O’s in 2021, Wells grabbed a lot of attention as a Rule 5 underdog who exceeded expectations. Only two Orioles relievers threw more innings than Wells in 2021: Cole Sulser (63.1) and Dillon Tate (67.2). The only reliever with 30 or more innings pitched and a lower ERA than Wells was Sulser (2.70).
When the dust settled at the end of 2021, Wells had 44 appearances under his belt for the O’s, including 18 games finished, and threw a total of 57 innings. His FIP (3.63) was almost a half run lower than his ERA (4.11), while the big righty managed a 0.912 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, and 5.42 K/BB.
While Wells’ month-by-month numbers were inconsistent, his season was also interrupted by injury on more than one occasion. Tendinitis in his right wrist cost Wells a couple weeks from late July to mid-August, and he was shut down near the tail end of the season with right shoulder inflammation.
The first month of 2021 was tough for Wells, when he allowed seven runs (including four home runs) in 9.2 innings despite a 1.138 WHIP and 10.2 SO/9. Wells’ best month was probably June, when he tossed 14.1 innings with a 1.26 ERA, a WHIP well under one, and more than 11 K’s per nine. The right-hander didn’t allow any runs in August, but he also pitched only 4.2 innings and saw his strikeouts dip to 7.7 per nine. In the final month, Wells had a 7.27 ERA and averaged just 6.2 SO/9.
Looking back at the history of his baseball career, dating all the way back to college, Wells has improved his control incrementally. Three years in the California Collegiate Athletic Association saw his BB/9 go from 4.5 to 4.0 to 3.7. In parts of three minor league seasons, that figure is 2.6 BB/9. And last season with the Orioles, Wells averaged a mere 1.9 BB/9.
For Wells, a good 2022 season starts with making the team out of spring training, and continues with spending the whole year in the bigs. That means no minor league detours, which also means no sophomore slump to necessitate such a move.
He also needs to carry last year’s success forward and maintain what he did well. According to Statcast, Wells’ fastball spin and chase rate were strong last year, ranking in the 88th and 95th percentiles, respectively. He was also adept at inducing weak contact, as shown by his average exit velocity (25th percentile), hard hit percentage (29th percentile), and barrel percentage (8th percentile).
But in 2022, Wells needs to do a better job of keeping the ball in the park. He allowed nine homers in 57 innings last season, which comes out to 1.4 HR/9. For Wells to take another step forward, that number needs to come down.
Finally, the big right-hander needs to stay healthy and handle a big workload out of the pen. If he’s pitching well and has earned manager Brandon Hyde’s trust, Wells should tally another 40-plus relief appearances and exceed last year’s innings total.
Tyler Wells should be in the Orioles bullpen this season from start to finish. Hopefully, that means he’s holding down a high-leverage late inning role. Whether that role is closer or setup man is to be determined. But he’s young, talented, and controllable, so he should be around for awhile.
Previously: Félix Bautista, Logan Gillaspie, Isaac Mattson, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Rougned Odor, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Kyle Bradish, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Kelvin Gutiérrez, Kevin Smith, Terrin Vavra, D.L. Hall, Jahmai Jones, Bruce Zimmermann, Mike Baumann, Ryan McKenna, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Jorge López, Ramón Urías, Dillon Tate, Paul Fry, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells, Cole Sulser, Jorge Mateo, Tanner Scott, DJ Stewart, Ryan Mountcastle
Tomorrow: Anthony Santander