Alexander Wells is from Australia. He’s part of that burgeoning baseball scene half a world away, but what’s more remarkable than his background is how the 19-year-old left-hander has come to possess something many young men who grew up in America can’t seem to get a grip on — that innate feel for how to pitch.
Wells has used that gift to achieve quick success in the Orioles’ farm system, on Tuesday pitching a scoreless inning in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game as one of the two representatives for the Short-Season Class-A Aberdeen Ironbirds. He earned that spot with a 2.03 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP in 10 starts (48 2/3 innings), capping his first year as a pro this month in sterling fashion.
“I really wanted to get up here and show the Orioles organization what I had to offer, especially at this level being my first year of pro ball,” Wells said. “But I settled in nice, found some rhythm, had good command of all pitches. I’ve had all good outings — I’ve really just had good rhythm out there — just relaxing, not overthrowing, which I found working in Florida. I’ve just brought all the stuff I learned up in Florida up to here, and it’s worked out really well.”
His background, through a full season of attention at Aberdeen, has become well-known. He grew up playing cricket, tried baseball at age 10, and is joined in the minor league ranks by his twin brother Lachlan, another high-upside left-hander who was signed by the Minnesota Twins.
Perhaps Wells’ peers from the United States can take a tip from his development in Australia —he didn’t grow up trying to perform for a radar gun, but trying to get batters out like an effective pitcher would. In his most recent start Friday at Aberdeen, that was his focus.
Wells needed just 53 pitches to get through five innings of shutout, one-hit ball against the Red Sox’ affiliate from Lowell. He showed an advanced three-pitch mix that projects well as Wells moves forward. The 6-foot-1 left-hander has a clean, smooth delivery with a high leg-kick, and is frequently on time with his upper and lower half in sync. His fastball was 88-92 mph and constantly around the strike zone, located down to either side of the plate.
Late in counts, when Wells got to two strikes, he often went to his breaking ball, a two-plane curveball that he spotted to his arm-side against both left- and right-handed batters. He got three called strikeouts on the pitch, plus two swinging at fastballs, and also mixed in a changeup that was 82-83 mph.
Wells said that in Australia, youth pitchers aren't allowed to throw a curveball until they’re 15.
“I was fastball-changeup — that’s my big key growing up in junior baseball,” Wells said. “I always had a good changeup, and once I started throwing a curveball, I normally went to the curveball at most times. That’s changed since I got here. I’ve been throwing both the same amount. I’m really happy about that.”
Wells is willing to go to his off-speed pitches so much, and has developed a precocious feel for when to throw them most effectively, because he won’t overpower with his fastball.
“It’s an advantage,” Wells said. “When I go out there, I just try not to overthrow the baseball. That’s the biggest thing for me — keep relaxed out there, hit the spots and try not to overdo things out there. Just focus on the target, hit the spot, keep the ball down to both sides of the plate and try not to overthrow.”
Aberdeen pitching coach Justin Lord has been impressed with what he’s seen so far.
“It is a little rare for a 19-year-old kid to have a good feel for the ball at that age," Lord said. "As far as his background goes, he looks like he’s a kid who has always worked hard his whole life. That’s the thing — some of the stuff is he is very talented for his age, but he also is a very hard worker. He’s got talent, but he applies it. That’s what you like to see.”
Lord was also with Wells in the spring and early summer as he got acclimated to the Orioles’ methods, and said he took to them quickly. That has complemented a pitcher who is proving advanced on the mound.
“He’s got a really clean delivery — he had a really clean delivery coming in — and he’s commanded his fastball well,” Lord said. “Your secondary pitches are always going to work off your fastball, and he has good feel for his changeup and his curveball. He’s just a hard, dedicated worker.”