Name: Jared Wells
DOB: October 31, 1981
Early in his career, Jared Wells earned the label of being only as good as he wanted to be and the fear was he wouldn't want to put in the work to reach his talent.
That changed quickly after a disappointing 2004 season. With renewed confidence, an improved work ethic, and trust in his secondary pitches, Wells went out and earned MadFriars.com and San Diego Padres Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors.
"He is a very, very competitive person when he is on the mound," Mike Couchee, the Padres' roving pitching instructor, said. "He is starting to understand; he has seen people move around him and guys that he signed with playing at higher levels. I don't know if it was taking it serious or not. I don't know if he knew about the amount of work and dedication it was going to take to get where he belongs and where he will be for a long time, which is at the big league level."
Wells wasn't fazed by throwing twice as many innings as he had in the past. He kept the ball down while pitching to contact.
It was a match and his confidence soared.
The right-hander carried it over into this season with Double-A Mobile, coming out of the gate with nine runs allowed over his first nine starts. His walks were up but the hits were down. He was also throwing more changeups than ever, hitting 30 in one game against Mississippi.
With the changeup on point, Wells forced grounders to the middle of the diamond and when things weren't going well the line drives were shot up the middle.
A hamstring injury near the end of his tour of duty in Mobile caused him to overcompensate in his delivery and led to more wildness and worse, wildness up in the zone. He was tattooed for 11 runs on 17 hits, including three homers, while walking seven over his final 13.2 frames in Mobile.
Nevertheless, he earned a promotion to Portland and with his confidence waning was pummeled. Even the good starts – the first three where he allowed six runs over 13.1 innings – weren't good; He walked 14 over that same stretch.
It was never the same after that. He ended up with an ERA of 8.08 over his next 12 starts and never seemed comfortable on the mound. Wells was trying to be too fine and abandoned his changeup – a pitch the Padres have implored he continues to throw, especially in times of need.
"The things he gets away with in Double-A he is not going to get away with in Triple-A," 2006 Mobile manager Gary Jones said. "The same thing is true for a guy who goes from Triple-A to the majors. He has success and makes mistakes that hitters miss in Triple-A they aren't going to miss in the big leagues. I think that is the type of situation players find themselves in when they move up a level."
"He struggled at the end of the year," Padres' minor league field coordinator, Bill Bryk said. "His stuff is all there. He could come back to bite you because of his stuff. His stuff is good – above average at times – but he pitches below his stuff, at times."
"Jared was throwing the ball instead of pitching," 2006 Portland manager Craig Colbert said. "He was not trusting his stuff as much as he should because he has good stuff. There are some pretty good hitters at this level and if you are not making good enough pitches you are going to get hit pretty hard."
The Texas native has always had an above-average fastball that he works in at 90-93 MPH and can touch 95. He compliments it with a changeup and a slider he likes to throw in to left-handed hitters.
His hard slider lacked bite in the Pacific Coast League and fell into the wheelhouse of left-handed hitters.
"I finally got through to Jared," Triple-A pitching coach Gary Lance said. "He is one of those guys and he threw some good games towards the end of the year. More importantly, he started evolving into some consistency with his release point. And we did make headway. Unfortunately, he got to me so late – sometimes this thing is a year long project because they have a smattering enough of success that makes it hard for me to say, ‘See, I told you so.'"
It didn't help that Wells wasn't happy with the defense behind him in Portland, believing his numbers would have been better had the range been better on the infield. The problem is the thinking only made matters worse, infiltrating his head and not allowing him to focus on his pitching and let the rest take care of itself.
A fragile psyche will be a label he has to shed. He is tough on himself and that can lead to the lack of confidence. On the plus side, he is a fierce competitor who can smell the majors in his future and is hungry to have a taste.
But to get there, he has to be hungrier on the mound, particularly with two strikes. His "pitch to contact" approach backs him off from throwing his best stuff. Instead of attacking the zone, Wells doesn't offer up his best stuff.
"He was a guy that has got good stuff," Double-A pitching coach Glenn Abbott said. "He has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues but he is just a little bit stubborn. He thinks he has it all figured out. He didn't have the command he needed to pitch at the higher levels and that is something we talked about. His stuff was getting them out at Double-A. Of course, as you could see, he had trouble making that adjustment in Triple-A."
"I think he will bounce back," said Bryk. "He just has to learn how to use it. His biggest problem, and I hope he reads this, is he doesn't make good pitches with two strikes. He doesn't put hitters away when he has the chance. For his kind of stuff he doesn't have that many strikeouts. He doesn't put hitters away like he should. He has them at two strikes and for whatever reason – he is going to have to learn to put hitters away. He has the stuff to be a strikeout pitcher."
"He was up in the zone and I said, ‘Jared, you can't pitch up there,'" Abbott added. "We wanted him to come down and got him to use his changeup a lot, which he did and he had success with it. On the same hand, a lot of the strikes that were thrown were chase pitches. You have to be able to throw that pitch for a strike whether he swings or not. He has to work on that aspect of it. He didn't have command of his slider for strikes. To pitch in the big leagues you have to have command to throw quality strikes. They won't chase in the big leagues like they do in the minor leagues. When you get to Triple-A it is an assortment of older players that have been around so you get a lot of guys there who won't chase as much either. That is why he had more walks in Triple-A."
There is a fine line for success, though. People have, at times, moved ahead of him on the pecking order. That has never sat well with the right-hander.
Learning to accept the lessons and apply them on the field will be instrumental in his future. No one doubts the stuff but the headstrong attitude has to become acceptance.
ETA: Wells will begin the year in Triple-A Portland and a solid campaign will have him in the running for a September call-up and perhaps a big league job in 2008. He has the stuff to be a middle of the rotation starter but needs to bring the intensity with every pitch. If there is anyone who can get the point across it is pitching coach Gary Lance. Tearing through the Pacific Coast League could also set him up nicely as an injury replacement on the big league staff. There does figure to be an opening in 2008 and a youngster would seem to be at the forefront to snare the job.