Yankees want Austin Wells 'focused' on playing catcher, not another position

Whether Austin Wells makes the Yankees' Opening Day roster is a storyline to follow throughout the spring. With Jose Trevino as the starting catcher, if healthy, to start the season, and a number of other catchers available, the 24-year-old may be the odd man out.

There is the thought that Wells might be better off learning a new position so the Yanks can utilize his bat, a scenario that was brought up to Aaron Boone following Sunday’s spring training workouts in Tampa. The manager was adamant that the club's focus is to make Wells a better catcher.

“[Wells has] done such a good job making big strides, defensively, catching,” Boone said. “And obviously being an offensive guy, too. Learning our staff, getting called up last year, the progress he’s made this winter. Right now we don’t want to put that on his plate.

“Athletically he can absolutely handle anything, and that could be something down the road that adds a versatility element to it. Right now, I want him focused on our staff and the catching position.”

Wells was called up in September alongside outfield prospect Jasson Dominguez and after a slow start, heated up at the plate. In 19 games last year, Wells slashed .229/.257/.486 with a .743 OPS, going 8-for-20 with three home runs in his final five games.

But if Wells is to make the Opening Day roster, he’ll have to show he can play good defense and handle a staff, especially reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole.

Cole has a preference for specific catchers. Trevino caught Cole exclusively until his injury, and then Ben Rortvedt became his personal catcher. But with the team only holding two catchers, there’s room for one more spot.

Boone knows how Wells and the other catchers handle Cole and the rest of the rotation is important, and he gave the 24-year-old his first taste on Sunday.

“It was his first time getting in there and catching a side [with Cole]. I’ll get him in there in a game with him too,” Boone explained. “[Carlos Narvaez] caught him a lot last spring and did a really good job last year. Obviously, Ben and Trevy have their experience catching. Especially with Trevy being down the first few weeks of games, I’ll try to rotate that early in campo and give everyone a feel there. The start of that was with Austin.”

The Yankees announced when pitchers and catchers reported earlier this week that Trevino will miss a few weeks due to a calf injury. That will give Wells and the rest of the catchers more of an opportunity to show what they can do.

But from how he’s worked this winter and how Wells has gone about spring training this year -- he missed last spring due to a rib injury -- he’s put himself in a good position to be considered for a roster spot, at least, that’s what Boone says.

Wells will get his chance to make his case when the Yankees have their first spring training game against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday, Feb. 24.