Casper Wells Making Noise


For all intents and purposes, the Tigers appeared set coming into camp with regards to the outfield. Magglio Ordonez is primed for a bounce-back year as the right fielder, Johnny Damon and Carlos Guillen will split up the left field and DH duties, and Ryan Raburn will provide depth at all three spots.

The only question was whether or not rookie Austin Jackson could hit enough to start the year in Detroit. If he can’t, conventional wisdom says Clete Thomas would likely get the majority of the work in center for the Tigers. Outside of those guys, there isn’t room on the roster for any other outfielder.

Casper Wells evidently didn’t get the memo.

Wells was the Tigers 14th round pick in 2005 and the Grand Rapids native has been turning heads in the minor leagues ever since. Though he has yet to play above AA, Wells has only one season in his five as a professional where he failed to post an OPS of at least .800 in the minors. That season, 2006, Wells played in only 46 games.

For the past two seasons at AA Erie, Wells has played almost exclusively in center field. During that time he has accumulated 581 at bats, roughly the equivalent of a full season, and lit up the Eastern League to the tune of a .372 OBP and .902 OPS. He had 32 home runs and 94 RBI during that stretch as well as 16 stolen bases.

For the past two Autumns, Wells has played in the Arizona Fall League, and each year he has been one of the better performers there. Back in November, Matt Wallace of Take 75 North broke down Wells’ most recent AFL season as follows:

"He had a line of .351/.433/.662 and his OPS of 1.096 was better than anybody on the team besides his Tiger teammate, Scott Sizemore. His 4 home runs were second on the team, as were his 13 extra base hits. He had a share of the team lead for RBIs with 25. Unfortunately, he also shared the team lead in strikeouts with 26.–snip–He doesn’t expand the strike zone all that often, which is clearly a positive. However, when the ball is put in the strike zone he isn’t all that good at making contact. Even when he does make contact, he only puts the ball in play about half the time. The other good thing – in addition to his selectiveness – is when he puts the ball in play between the lines, good things seem to happen."

If you read Wallace’s entire article, and I suggest you do, he goes into great detail about Wells’ performance at the plate. As will be the case with any young player, especially those who have yet to crack the roster in Toledo, there are holes in his swing. But his ability to lay off bad pitches is encouraging.

Wells entered yesterday’s Grapefruit League opener against Toronto with the Tigers down a run in the ninth. Appearing as a pinch-hitter, Wells tied the score by scorching an RBI triple to center, and eventually scored the go-ahead run. Add that to his mammoth three-run homer in Tuesday’s exhibition versus Florida Southern College and you can see why some are hopeful about his future.

There are no doubts about his strength, he looks like Gabe Kapler in his physique, or his speed, but many feel he projects better as a corner outfielder down the road. During the Florida Southern game, Wells played right field while Thomas manned center, but in yesterday’s game, Wells played the bottom of the ninth in center and Thomas shifted to right.

At this point, it’s far, far too early to be thinking that Wells could actually make this club, but he certainly hasn’t done anything so far to make you think he has no chance at all. If nothing else, Wells can use this camp to make an impression with Jim Leyland so that when the need arises, he can be in line for a mid-season call-up.