As Tyler Wells listened to the stream of last week’s Rule 5 draft, he hoped not only to hear news about himself and a teammate or two in the Minnesota Twins organization, but also to satiate his craving for any baseball news at a time of year that is relatively barren of it.
The sport has often been a sanctuary for Wells, an outlet and escape for the stress his family went through after his mother died of cancer when he was 4 years old. Taking in the annual Rule 5 draft, this year’s being one in which he was eligible to be selected but wasn’t expecting to be, marks a continuation of that.
But he missed the announcement of what was, in his case, the most important pick. After the Orioles selected Cincinnati Reds minor leaguer Mac Sceroler with the draft’s fifth pick, they grabbed another right-handed pitcher in the second round by taking Wells. When the pick was officially announced on MLB’s stream, he was on the phone with his agent, discussing the next steps.
“I genuinely love baseball,” Wells said on a Zoom call this week. “I love playing it, I love the competitiveness of it, and my love for baseball really stems back from whenever my mother passed away. It took my mind away from the challenges I faced in my life.
“I always am genuinely curious to know what’s going on in the baseball world. I just like knowing things. I like knowing the process of things. I like knowing what people go through to get to where they are, and this is one of those hurdles that I’m now going through.”
As Rule 5 draft picks, Wells and Sceroler must remain on Baltimore’s major league roster for the entirety of the 2021 season or be offered back to their original clubs. Both have performed well in the low minors, but they weren’t added to their teams’ 40-man rosters and were thus left exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
Wells, 26, heard rumblings he could be selected, but he figured teams would pass given that he hadn’t pitched the past two seasons after Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2019 and the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season because of the coronavirus pandemic. He was due to return in July, he said, but the lost season allowed him to work through his recovery process more methodically.
“I was put into a lot of difficult situations that tested my mind, and I think that I would never trade those for the world because mentally, it’s created a lot of resilience in me,” Wells said. “If I can go through a lot of difficult situations, like I have my entire life, then I think that I have the ability to go through almost anything and be able to thrive in any kind of environment that I get thrown into.”
Wells’ connections to the Orioles are sparing; a former teammate’s dad once played with Baltimore assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes, and while with the Twins, he became friendly with teammate Lachlan Wells, the twin brother of Orioles prospect Alexander Wells. He has no relation to the Australian left-handers.
Sceroler, though, is the nephew of former Orioles pitcher and current broadcaster Ben McDonald, Baltimore’s No. 1 overall pick in 1989. On a Zoom call Wednesday, Sceroler, 25, recalled tagging along with his parents as they traveled around the country to his uncle’s games. There are family photos of him at Camden Yards, wearing Orioles jerseys and caps.
“He was my first pitching coach,” Sceroler said. “He’s been very helpful throughout my whole career, high school, college and now professionally. He has that good insight that not many other people have because he’s been through everything that I want to go through, so he’s a good person to lean on, especially in a time like this.
“It’s been really cool for our family, being that Ben’s almost a legend over there in Baltimore.”
Sceroler said he and McDonald have discussed how the Orioles are an organization ripe with opportunity, hence the addition of two pitchers who between them have six appearances above High-A. In his early conversations with Baltimore’s front office, Sceroler has already received analytically driven tips, specifically the team’s interest in his fastball-curveball combination.
“I’ve learned some stuff about me that I didn’t know,” he said, “so I’m super excited just to learn more about me that I don’t know.”
Sceroler and Wells have pitched predominantly as starters in their minor league careers, but given their roster requirements as Rule 5 selections and their lack of upper-minors experience, they might prove better short-term fits in the Orioles’ bullpen. Baltimore added another player to their relief mix Wednesday, agreeing to a minor league deal with veteran left-hander Fernando Abad, according to a source with direct knowledge of the agreement. Abad turns 35 on Thursday, has a 3.67 ERA in nine seasons with six teams, and spent 2020 at the New York Yankees’ alternate site but didn’t appear in a major league game.
Neither of Baltimore’s Rule 5 picks participated at their former teams’ alternate sites or fall instructional camps. Sceroler pitched in 26 games in 2019, 20 of them starts, with a 3.69 ERA across 117 innings for Cincinnati’s High-A affiliate. In 2018, his last healthy season, Wells had a 2.49 ERA in 22 outings between High-A and Double-A, all but one of those appearances as a starter. He credited that performance to losing 60 pounds the previous offseason thanks to motivation from Twins special assistant LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched in 21 major league seasons.
Come spring training, both pitchers will try to repeat those successes to remain with the Orioles throughout 2021.
“I don’t really think I have to do anything different other than what I did in 2019,” Sceroler said. “Just talking to some coaches and the front office, they really like what I did back in 2019. A lot of people, trying to make big jumps like this, they tend to kind of overdo it and be somebody who they’re not.”
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Added Wells: “I don’t like backing down from people. I like to take calculated risks. … In spring training, I’m looking forward to taking those calculated risks, challenging people that don’t normally get to be challenged and also challenging myself to learn and to grow as a baseball player.”