Wells' Future Uncertain

The future of Cubs pitching prospect Randy Wells has taken on something of an uncertain turn over the past month or so.

Randy Wells has come a long way since he was selected in the 38th round of the 2002 draft some five years ago.

The 24-year-old began his professional career as a catcher, where he struggled at the plate before the Cubs converted him to pitcher in 2003.

Less than three years later, the Belleville, Ill., native had received his first invitation to Big League Spring Training and would make his Triple-A debut.

After being tendered a second invite to big league camp earlier this year, Wells began his 2007 season back in the minor leagues with Triple-A Iowa. He made just three starts before being shuffled to the bullpen.

It is there that Wells has experienced the bulk of his success this season. In relief, he has boasted a 2.55 ERA in 23 appearances, striking out 48, walking 21, and holding opposing hitters to a .230 average against in 42 1/3 innings.

But since teammate Sean Gallagher was summoned to Chicago from Iowa earlier this month and subsequently returned to resume his tenure as a starter, Wells has returned to make three starts from the Triple-A rotation.

His future is still with the Cubs, but his role with them is uncertain. Wells has long since preferred to pitch in relief. That may seem odd, considering the above-average job he's done as a starter for much of his career.

Still, Wells prefers the ‘pen.

"I don't like waiting in between starts," Wells said when asked why. "I like having the opportunity to pitch on a regular basis. I stay sharper. To come in and pump fastballs and throw a changeup in there, I don't have to save anything or try to trick anybody.

"I'd always struggled with pitch counts. I'd try to strike guys out. As your pitch counts get up and up, you don't stay in the game long. I just prefer the bullpen and feel it suits me a little bit better," added Wells.

The Cubs seem willing to honor Wells' request.

"I think that was the original plan out of Spring Training – to go to the bullpen all along," he said. "And then some injuries happened and stuff got flipped around. I filled in when I needed to."

Throughout his career, Wells has compiled an overly modest record as a starter with a respectable if not solid ERA. The overall numbers (25-16 record, 3.52 ERA) in his four-plus years on the mound suggest the potential is there.

Iowa pitching coach Mike Harkey sees that potential first-hand whenever the catcher turned pitcher takes the mound. Harkey, a Cubs first-round draft pick in 1987, believes Wells has "the stuff" to pitch at the big league level.

"I think his biggest thing now is to just be more consistent," said Harkey. "He has to prove to the guys up top that he can go out and put up zeros for an extended period of time. Once that happens, that's when you get your opportunity.

"He's definitely shown glimpses this year out of the bullpen that he could be the guy to put up those zeros. He just needs to be a little more consistent in his pitch selection. Once he's able to do that, then he's going to be in the big leagues," Harkey added.

Wells features a fastball, slider and changeup in his repertoire. Because he doesn't have to conserve quite as much from the bullpen as he does starting, his velocity is a tick or two faster, he says.

Wells has also changed the grip of his changeup in recent months.

"I've split my changeup," said Wells. "I'm throwing a split-changeup now and have been getting some pretty good sink action on it, and have been putting right-handers and lefties away with it. I'm still working to tighten up the slider so that I have two pretty good off-speed pitches to put guys away.

"Other than that, I've been getting more consistent because I've been pitching on a regular basis," he said.

And with teammates such as Gallagher and Billy Petrick getting the call-up to Chicago this season, Wells would be lying if he said he didn't think about when his own big league promotion might occur.

But he's learned that lesson the hard way, and says he tries to stop himself from thinking about it in the same sense that he has in the past.

"Yeah, you want to get there and I want to get there bad, more than anything in the world," said Wells. "But the more you start thinking about it, the more you lose focus on what you have to do here. I try hard not to really worry about it and just do what I have to do here."

What Wells has to do now is just stay consistent – regardless of what role he's in.

"To me, he has two major league pitches: his fastball and his changeup," Harkey said. "His slider may be enough to off-set both of those pitches at the major league level. But like I said, he's got to be able to put all three of them together and make them work on a consistent basis."

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