In recent years, there were not many players signed as international amateurs by the Orioles that made it all the way to the majors. But Aussie Alexander Wells pulled that off during the 2021 season, making his big league debut in late June.
The soft-tosser had four stints on the roster, beginning with his initial recall from Triple-A Norfolk on June 25. Over 11 games (eight starts), he went 2-3 with a 6.75 ERA. Over 42 2/3 innings, he allowed 53 hits and 10 homers with 16 walks and 26 strikeouts. He recorded a WHIP of 1.617, allowing 11.2 hits and 2.1 homers per nine, with 3.4 walks and 5.5 strikeouts.
Wells would not be the first pitcher to thrive in the majors with a fastball that often does not reach 90 mph, but the lack of even average velocity can make the job tougher and puts more pressure to control and command the ball exceptionally well.
Wells has shown the ability to do that on the farm. His walks per nine were 1.3 in his first pro season at short-season Single-A Aberdeen in 2016. The next year, when he won the Jim Palmer Award as the best pitcher on the farm, he went 11-5 with a 2.38 ERA for low Single-A Delmarva. He walked just 10 batters over 140 innings that season, none over his last 68 innings. His walk rate was 0.6. Then it was 2.2 in 2018 at high Single-A Frederick and 1.6 in 2019 when he went 8-6 with a 2.95 ERA at Double-A Bowie.
Last season with Norfolk, he was 6-3 with a 3.29 ERA in 54 2/3 innings, making 10 starts among 13 outings. He allowed 49 hits and six homers with seven walks to 48 strikeouts for a 1.2 walks per nine average with the Tides.
Considering that he was hampered early in the year by an oblique injury, and that his ERA was 9.88 after his first four games with Norfolk, Wells put together a nice run later in his first Triple-A season. In fact, his ERA was 1.10 in his last nine games from June through August for the Tides.
Like Mike Baumann, who I featured here, Wells had a decent run - really better than decent - for three months at Triple-A last summer. Yet he pitched just 54 2/3 innings at that level after throwing 140 with Delmarva in 2017, 135 with Frederick the next year and 137 in 2019 at Bowie. I think it was a real plus for his development that he spent three straight entire seasons at one level with one team.
The Orioles may believe he could use more Triple-A innings to begin 2022. But he is certainly someone that should find his way into some starts for the Orioles at some point.
With his velocity, the doubters will always be there, but that has been true for him for a while now.
In his big league time last summer, Wells used his fastball 51 percent of the time at an average velocity of 88.5 mph. He threw his curveball 19 percent, his slider 16 percent and his changeup 14 percent.
Wells saved his best outing for last, holding Boston to one run and three hits in six innings on 80 pitches on Sept. 30 in Game 159 for the Orioles. He retired 16 of 18 batters at one point. In that game, his fastball average, per Statcast, was 85.8 mph and he topped at 87.7 mph.
BrooksBaseball.net listed his velo at 86.1 mph for that game, but had him at basically 88 and 89 mph for every other outing. His highest average velocity per that outlet was 89.6 mph on Sept. 14 versus the Yankees.
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks has a career 3.36 ERA for the Cubs and has finished in the top nine for the NL Cy Young Award twice. His average velos over the last three years were 86.9, 87.4 and 87.3 mph. It can done without premium, or as Hendricks proves, even average velocity.
Wells, signed for $300,000 out of Newcastle, Australia, in August 2015, became the third Australian-born player in Orioles history, joining right-hander John Stephens in 2002 and lefty Damian Moss in 2003.
Heading into next season he'll likely get further chances to show he can hold an O's rotation spot, using a combination of guile, guts, command and control of four pitches to try and get the job done.
The Aussie spun the best start of his young career. pic.twitter.com/JVB9HeAl7z-- Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) October 1, 2021