Josh Michael: Alex Wells succeeds by going against the grain

When it comes to pitching prospects, both before they are even drafted and after, all of the talk tends to be about how hard they throw their fastball. While I won’t argue that it’s nice when a guy can throw a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, I’ll take a guy who gets outs, pounds the zone and makes a hitter earn his way on base. Orioles prospect Alex Wells, a left-hander, falls into that latter category, and I’m glad he’s in the O’s system.

Wells, 21, is one of the rare International free agent signings in the Orioles system. The O’s signed him out of Australia back in August 2015.

Ever since then, all the lefty has done is get people out and prevent the other team from scoring very many runs, which in the end is what pitching is all about.

Currently ranked 11th on both the MLBPipeline and Baby Birdland O’s prospects lists, Wells is against the grain in so many ways in comparison to most pitching prospects. He does not own a mid-90s fastball, doesn’t live on the strikeout and is not afraid to pound the strike zone to avoid free passes.

He throws his fastball in the upper 80s, while touching 90-9 mph on occasion, but uses his above-average secondary pitches to make his fastball play up. His changeup is one of the better ones I have seen from such a young arm and he also owns a good curveball, the 12-to-6 kind. So when you are a hitter, you have three quality pitches to look for that can range 15-20 mph difference, and that’s simply hard to hit against.

To make matters even worse for hitters is the fact that Wells’ command of all his pitches is so good that it sometimes looks like the catcher could literally sit on his bottom behind the plate because Wells puts the ball right in the mitt.

Just how good is that command? How about the fact that over his first two years in the organization (2016-17), Wells threw 202 2/3 combined innings and walked just 19 batters?

Last season with the low Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds, Wells was one of the top pitchers in the entire South Atlantic League and went 11-4 with a 2.38 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP over 25 starts and 140 innings pitched. He walked 10 batters all year and struck out 113. His performance earned him the Orioles’ Jim Palmer minor league Pitcher of the Year Award, given to the best pitcher in the O’s farm system.

This year, pitching for the high Single-A Frederick Keys, Wells has picked up right where he left off. After his start on Tuesday, Wells owns a 2.40 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP and has struck out 13 over 15 innings. Of his three starts, last night’s was not his best - eight hits, two walks, two earned runs in 4 2/3 innings - but it’s pretty easy to feel like that’s going to be an outlier and not the norm.

He may not light up a radar gun or make a catcher’s mitt pop with the noise that turns heads, but odds are, when you go see Wells pitch, you are not going to see many opposing batters reach base. In the end, that’s the name of the game, right?

Josh Michael blogs about the Orioles for Baby Birdland. Follow him on Twitter: @BabyBirdland. His opinions on the Orioles will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s longstanding initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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