Austin Wells will end up having one of the shortest college careers of any Arizona Wildcats baseball player to get drafted, but it won’t be short on memorable moments.
In his first collegiate at-bat—not even 16 months ago—Wells hit a home run out of expansive Hi Corbett Field, the first UA player to homer in his debut in 13 years. That set the stage for the greatest freshman season in school history, one that culminated in Wells becoming the first Wildcat to win Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
Even bigger things were expected from Wells in 2020, who shined in the summer Cape Cod League in between his freshman and sophomore years, and before the global coronavirus pandemic shut down the college season in mid-March the left-handed hitting catcher was tearing up the competition with a .375 batting average, .589 slugging percentage and 1.116 OPS through 15 games. That was good enough for Second Team All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball.
Under normal circumstances, Wells would be coming back for his junior year. But as someone who will turn 21 within 45 days of the end of the 2020 MLB Draft—which begins Wednesday and goes through Thursday—Wells is part of a select group of draft-eligible sophomores and could be the first of those selected.
The consensus among mock drafts is that Wells will go either late in the first round Wednesday or early in the second round on Thursday. If it’s the latter he’ll be the first Wildcat first-rounder since Kevin Newman went 19th overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015, which is fitting since Newman in 2013 was the last UA freshman to start every game until Wells did so last year.
That Wells could be gone from UA after only two seasons never factored into Arizona’s decision to recruit him, coach Jay Johnson said. That Wells would be gone that quickly was more or a definite in Johnson’s eyes the first time he stepped into the batter’s box during fall practice in 2018.
“It was pretty clear that he was as advanced a hitter as a freshman as you possibly could have,” Johnson said. “He handled high-level pitching from the second he stepped on campus. He takes very professional and mature at-bats. The way he goes about his business is he’s far beyond his maturity as an offensive player. He has some of the best ability to make adjustments of any hitter I’ve ever coached, and that’s saying a lot given the offensive players I’ve had.”
A reminder: Johnson coached eventual No. 2 overall pick Kris Bryant in college.
The son of former UA baseball player Greg Wells, Austin passed on a chance to turn pro out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas after the New York Yankees took him the 35th round in 2018. At the time he was being graded mostly for his bat, and while his pro prospects still hinge on that aspect—Johnson believes that’s what will get Wells into the majors, even if it means moving to first base or the outfield—his improvement behind the plate also deserves notice.
“I have to credit Austin for the strides he made defensively this year,” Johnson said. “He put in a lot of work. He became a really, really good receiver, which is the most important part of being catcher. I think given time, his desire to catch, his aptitude and his intelligence, it’s only a matter of time before he continues that improvement to where he needs to be to be an elite catcher.”
NOTE: Wells declined to be interviewed for this story. A UA spokesman said Wells opted not to conduct pre-draft interviews.