The reward for his renewed gusto took place on the hill, primarily with the Lake Elsinore Storm. Wells went on to win the California League Pitcher of the Year award by compiling an 11-3 record with a 3.44 ERA, striking out 80 and walking 26 in 120.1 innings. He held the opposition to a .257 average against and limited them to .230 with runners in scoring position.
The transformation is not fully complete, as some Padres officials have conceded the need for Wells to be proactive in throwing his changeup – instruction that has been slow in its implementation. He has leaned more heavily on his secondary pitches than in the past but will get stuck in the mindset of throwing the fastball, slider combination too often.
"A good fastball," Grady Fuson, the Padres vice president of scouting and player development, began. "He really had a good year."
A four game stretch in late June/early July cemented his status as an emerging prospect. Over that time, Wells allowed one run on 19 hits in 32.1 innings – which included two complete games in a row. Not long after, Wells was promoted to Double-A Mobile.
Notching seven starts with the BayBears, Wells went 2-5 with a 4.40 ERA. The opposition hit .307 off him and he walked 16 in 43 frames, including 12 free passes over his last 23 innings.
The Texas native has a power fastball that tops out at 95 and is consistently in the 90-92 range. He compliments that with the aforementioned changeup that is about ten miles per hour slower and a slider. He also has a two-seam fastball that has noticeable sink to it and comes in five miles per hour slower than the straighter four-seam.
The right-hander has always fashioned himself to be a finesse pitcher rather than a power arm. The Padres would prefer he mix the two. Wells pitches to contact and prefers to get the ground ball out rather than the strikeout. And, when he is on, the ground balls come and his pitch count is limited. The problem is his stuff teeters on being more conducive to fly balls and it can create trouble for him.
"His ability to be fearless on the mound and just go out there," catcher George Kottaras said of his strengths. "His goal like any other pitcher is to get the hitter out, and he's not afraid to throw any pitch in situations. He'll go out there and use whatever he's got that day and be aggressive."
A former football player that blew his knee out as a college freshman, Wells is tasked with continuing his advancement by using all the tools available to him. Working in the changeup will make his fastball that much more potent.
"We have him working on the changeup to utilize it more and play off the fastball," Tye Waller, the Padres former director of player development, said. "We are trying to get him to back off the fastball as everything he has right now is hard – a hard slider, fastball. This year he improved his command. His velocity has always been good but you have to have the ability to command that strike zone. You have to make pitches either way."
There is a buzz on Wells right now and he is tabbed to begin the season in Double-A Mobile. He came pretty far from last year to this year and must continue while putting the advice of his coaches to use.
Wells has the stuff – he always has – but in the past his work ethic has been questioned. Being so close to the majors, coupled with excitement about his game, has fueled him. That competitive fire must hold true through this year to take the next step.