If you missed it last year (and who could blame you if you did), quite a few pitching prospects got to make their debuts as the Orioles put the finishing touches on another out-of-it-by-May campaign.
One of those prospects was Alexander Wells, the 20th-ranked prospect in the organization in 2020 according to MLB.com, who arrived in June and whose stint looked pretty much the way you would expect a rookie’s to: a few encouraging signs, and a whole lot of room for improvement.
The end result for Wells was a 2-3 record with a 6.75 ERA over 11 appearances. Eight of those outings were starts, and Wells finished with a WHIP of 1.617.
It was a “Welcome to the bigs” kind of season for the (as of two Sundays ago) 25-year-old from Newcastle, Australia, who joined the organization after being signed as a free agent in 2015. Wells began to quickly climb the ranks, going 4-5 with a 2.15 ERA in Aberdeen his first pro season and 11-5 with a 2.38 mark in Delmarva in his second in 2017.
Wells kept showing he could handle promotions, going 7-8 with a 3.73 ERA in Frederick in 2018, 8-6 with a 3.28 ERA in Bowie in 2019 and 6-3 with a 3.29 ERA in Norfolk in 2021 (there was no minor league season in 2020 due to COVID).
That led to the Orioles saying they’d give the Down Under lefty a shot in the majors, and while the end numbers weren’t impressive, Wells had some outings that made you think there was something there. He pitched two scoreless innings in his debut, and in his third start allowed three runs on five hits in 5.2 innings while striking out seven in a 5-4 loss to the Rays.
Wells wasn’t able to keep the momentum going, as he allowed four runs in five innings in his next start against the Tigers and then got shelled (six runs in 2.1 innings) against the Yankees. After that start against the Rays, Wells had an ERA of 7.52 over eight outings (seven starts), though he did finish strong with one run allowed on three hits in six innings in a 6-2 victory over the Red Sox.
So not the worst debut, but it did show the areas in which Wells has to improve, or the limitations he’ll have to deal with, going forward. First and foremost is his velocity; Wells ranks in the fifth percentile with a fastball that averages 88.5 miles per hour, and it showed as he struck out only 26 batters in 42.2 innings. His top two pitches didn’t challenge hitters enough — batters hit .313 against his fastball, thrown 383 times, and .367 against his curveball, thrown 146 times.
His slider, thrown 121 times, was his most effective pitch, with opposing hitters batting only .229 against it. He also had a whiff percentage of 23.9 with it, easily beating his fastball (14.6) and curveball (9.4).
While Wells’s arsenal isn’t the most impressive, his control is what gives him a shot to cut it at the big-league level. He walked 3.4 batters per nine innings in his major league appearances, but that number was at 1.2 in Norfolk and 1.6 in Bowie. He’s also been good throughout his career at not leaving himself susceptible to big hits, allowing only 10 home runs in 153 total innings in 2019.
As his scouting report on MLB.com says, this allows him to project well as a pitcher in the back of the rotation. He doesn’t have the put away pitches to challenge for a spot at the top of the rotation, but his ability to not hurt himself with free passes and keep the ball in the ballpark ought to make him reliable enough to get spot starts or fill a role as a fourth or fifth starter.
End of season prediction:
Expect Wells to get some big league innings again this season, but he’ll likely spend some time at Norfolk as well. John Means, Jordan Lyles and Keegan Akin are ahead of him for rotation spots, and with pitchers like Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann gunning for starts as well, Wells will have to make a case for why he deserves the ball every five games. I expect Wells’s numbers to get better as he goes into the season with a better idea of how to approach these hitters, but it’s a stretch right now to see him on the major league roster once the year is up. He should get better, but he has a ways to go.
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
Tomorrow: Cole Sulser