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After spending 2020 in native Australia, Orioles prospect Alexander Wells ready for major league shot

Alexander Wells’ teammates in the Orioles organization have grown used to adjusting for the 16-hour or so time difference when they try to call the Australia native. They know if their mid-afternoon calls go unanswered, it’s likely because Wells, a left-handed pitching prospect, is still asleep.

When they do get a hold of him, they chat about various topics: how they feel they grew this past season, how they’re preparing for the next one, how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic affected life on and off the field. When they get to that last one, Wells’ description of his country’s current status surely is at least a little jarring for anyone living in the United States.

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“It’s actually pretty good here at the moment,” Wells told reporters on a video conference call Tuesday evening, or Wednesday morning for him. “Life’s starting to get back to some kind of a normal here.”

Wells’ home state, New South Wales, hasn’t had a locally transmitted case of COVID-19 in more than three weeks. Maryland, meanwhile, confirmed 2,765 new infections Tuesday, the 11th day since mid-November the state has reported more than 2,000 cases.

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Even as the pandemic nears nine full months since it temporarily shut down the sport, it still brings uncertainty for what’s to come. Wells was one of six prospects the Orioles recently added to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. His next spring training will be his first camp with a legitimate shot to earn a major league job. But asked whether the virus situation will affect his ability to come to the United States for spring training, Wells was unsure of all of the implications.

“I haven’t really thought about it too much,” Wells said. “I think the Australian government is only letting people travel if they are going to another country for work, work purposes, and baseball is my job, so I don’t see an issue of not being able to go next year for spring training, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to do a quarantine stint when I first get over there. I don’t know, I’m not too sure.”

The circumstances already kept him from training in person with Orioles coaches during the 2020 season. While other prospects were groomed at Baltimore’s alternate training site in Bowie or fall instructional camp in Sarasota, Florida, Wells spent the season in Australia. He routinely played catch with his twin brother, Lachlan, a fellow left-handed pitcher in the Minnesota Twins organization. He threw bullpens to a local catcher and faced batters, stretching himself to outings of four innings.

Still, he worried being away from the organization’s watch could hamper him when it came time to make decisions on which prospects needed to be added to the 40-man roster.

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“It definitely crossed my mind, thinking that I didn’t get over there this year,” Wells said. “Had I done enough in the past to be protected?”

His body of work proved worthy of inclusion, the only one of the six prospects added to not participate at Bowie or Sarasota. Wells, who thrives with outstanding command despite below-average velocity, has a 2.82 ERA in 86 starts across four minor league levels. Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said the club added Wells to the 40-man roster because it didn’t believe other teams would shy away from him in the Rule 5 draft despite him having not pitched stateside since spring training.

“This is a guy that flies a little bit under the radar in our system, but his minor league success has been crazy so far,” Elias said. “He’s dominated. He has elite command and he’s got a pretty good curveball and nice cutter-slider that he’s been working on. I think the reason we were determined to protect him this time is we view him as a potential starting pitcher. That’s a valuable asset. This is a guy that is knocking on the door right now, so if called upon this year, he could potentially come up and help the team, but ultimately, we just didn’t want to risk losing him.

“We want to keep developing Alex, and we want him to sink or swim as a big leaguer here with the Orioles.”

Despite the oceanwide distance, Wells kept in touch with teammates and some coaches. He specifically mentioned that he honed his slider through chats with director of pitching Chris Holt, who has since added major league pitching coach to his duties. Wells hopes to work with him in that capacity next year.

“To get protected by the Orioles just gives me an extra bit of confidence to know that they trust me enough to go up to the big leagues and go out there and compete with my type of pitching,” Wells said. “It gives me a lot more confidence.”

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