Wells has taken an unlikely path through the ranks of the minor leagues, but has developed into one of the most consistent pitchers in the Cubs' farm system. The 25-year-old, a former catcher, never pitched in high school or college, but switched positions in 2003 and earned a brief stint in the major leagues earlier this season.
Last December, Wells was selected in the Rule Five draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, but was returned to the Cubs in mid-April. A self-described "streaky" pitcher in the past, Wells is now off to his best start to date with Triple-A Iowa.
He is trying to maintain a consistent level of performance to warrant a call-up from the Chicago front office.
"When the time comes where they want to call somebody up, you know, I want to make them look extra hard at my name," Wells said. "And not just going down the list and passing my name up, I want them to take a second, third and fourth look at it, and hopefully I'm the right guy."
So far this season, Wells appears to be a worthy candidate. The 6-foot-5 pitcher has allowed just four earned runs in 27 innings (1.33 ERA) over five starts with Iowa.
He was named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week for May 19-25. Last Saturday night, he had his best outing of the season, tying a career-high with nine strikeouts in a six-inning no decision. Wells threw a season-high 98 pitches, allowing three hits and walking three while giving up no earned runs.
With the Blue Jays, Wells threw eight scoreless innings in Spring Training and survived the roster cut, making it onto the Opening Day, 25-man team. On April 5, he made his regular-season debut in a 10-2 win over the Boston Red Sox.
Wells said he didn't throw a strike while he was warming up, but was called out of the bullpen to pitch the ninth inning against the defending World Champions. After getting two quick outs, he walked Dustin Pedroia before retiring David Ortiz.
"I was like, ‘that is not what I wanted to do,'" Wells said of walking Pedroia. "But, you know, I made a pretty good pitch on him [Ortiz] and got him and after that, it was just ... I couldn't control myself. I was smiling ear to ear the whole rest of the day."
Four days later, Wells learned he would be designated for assignment, which began his return trip to Iowa. Per major league rules, if Wells wasn't kept on the major league roster with Toronto, the Blue Jays had to offer him back to the Cubs or work out a trade within 10 days.
He was back into the Iowa pitching shuffle on April 19. Short but sweet, his first taste of the major leagues represented an opportunity to establish his career, Wells said.
"It really sucks that it didn't work out over there, but it's got me more hungry," Wells said. "I'm just itching to get back and show that I belong up there."
Wells brought back not only memories from his time with Toronto, but also an improved sinker that he said has given him "a whole new dimension" to his other pitches. He said he entered the off-season with the intention of developing a consistent sinker, and with the help of Toronto pitching coaches, he worked the pitch into his game.
"I was kind of going about it at about a three-quarter arm angle; it was totally different than my other arm angles," Well said. "So I tinkered with some grips and pressures, and I got back to the same arm slot, and it's been a lot more effective for me."
Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason said the sinker gives Wells more options.
"I think [Roy] Halladay must have had something to do with that," Mason said. "It's a pretty solid pitch, and it's just another one that adds to his arsenal. I mean, he can back-door it, he can front-door it. It's a pitch that's going to get him a lot more groundball outs, because he's basically been a fly-ball pitcher until this year."
Mason is in his first year with Iowa after spending 15 years in the Kansas City Royals' organization and two years with the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate. His initial description of Wells was as a strike-thrower.
"He comes in and he can separate the plate with his fastball. He's developed a pretty decent slider, and his changeup has always been basically his go-to pitch, and now he's not relying on it so much," Mason said. "He's a guy that's not going to blaze it by you, but he can go in and out; he can pitch; he's an athlete; he does all the little things well. He'll get his shot in time."
Wells' fastball peaks in the lower 90s, and despite experience as a starter he is likely a middle relief prospect at the next level. Wells threw four relief appearances before making his first start with Iowa this season. He has thrown 11 1/3 innings of relief, giving up six earned runs.
Wells began his transformation from catcher to pitcher in 2003. His development over the past five seasons allowed him to progressively gain consistent command over his pitches, he said, as well as feel comfortable on the mound.
The time he spent at catcher left him with instincts for his new craft.
"Once you get the confidence and the command that you need, then you can get creative and start working patterns and setting up hitters," Wells said. "And that's one of the things that I've taken pride in. I used to catch. I used to call pitches and if the pitcher executed, the plan usually worked out.
"If you can get on the same page with the catcher and you can execute those pitches, pitching becomes fun, it becomes easy, and you start falling in a groove."
Wells said consistency is the name of the game.
"If you can stay consistently good and keep your pitches sharp and get hitters out, that's the name of the game," he said. "No matter how hard you throw, or where you came from, or what draft pick, or how you're there, if you're getting guys out then you should be there."