Prospect Retro: Vernon Wells
Vernon Wells was selected in the first round of the 1997 draft, out of high school in Arlington, Texas. He was the fifth overall pick. This was mildly controversial at the time. Most teams saw Wells as a late first-rounder, but the Jays pulled the trigger at least 10-15 slots higher than most other teams would have. Speculation at the time was that this was due to signability: Wells inked a contract immediately. But the Jays insisted that Wells would justify their selection of him. He was assigned to St. Catherine's in the New York-Penn League, where he hit .307/.377/.504 in 68 games, outstanding performance for a high school player against older competition. I didn't give grades to first-year draftees back then, but in retrospect he'd be a Grade A-.
Wells moved up to Hagerstown in the Sally League in '98, hitting .285/.348/.426 with 13 steals and 35 doubles. I gave him a Grade B, worried about reports that he'd had some problems with breaking pitches. In retrospect I think B+ would have been more appropriate.
1999 was a breakout season for Wells. He started off in the Florida State League, hitting .343/.403/.543 for Dunedin in 70 games. Promoted to Double-A Knoxville, he hit .340/.400/.519 in 26 games. This led to a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse, where he hit .310.357/.481 in 33 games. He collected a combined 24 steals at the three levels to go with 18 homers and the gaudy batting average. The Jays gave him a 24-game trial in the Show. He hit .261/.293/.362, not that good, but overall it was an outstanding campaign....and he was just 20 years old. I gave him a Grade A in the 2000 book and rated him as the Number Four prospect in baseball.
2000 didn't go as well. Wells began the year in a horrible slump. He warmed up in July, but his overall numbers for Syracuse were not impressive: .243/.313/.432. He did steal 23 bases in 27 attempts, and scouts continued to praise his tools. His BB/K/AB ratio was OK at 48/86/493. Word was that Wells was angry about not beginning the year in the majors, and sulked a bit in the first half. But he pulled out of it eventually, and was still well-regarded by the organization. I lowered his rating to Grade B+ in the 2001 book, but warned people not to give up on him. I still had him as the Number 19 prospect in the game
Wells returned to Syracuse again in 2001, hitting .281/.333/.453 with 15 steals in 107 games. He hit .313/.350/.427 in 30 games for the Blue Jays. He no longer qualified as a rookie, so I didn't put him in the 2002 book. If I had, he'd still have rated as a Grade B+. He finally got a full-time job in '02, and has been a productive player ever since. His numbers this year (.324/.384/.602 in 106 games) are excellent, as he is just now entering his peak years at age 27. He should have many more strong campaigns to come.
In the minors, Wells demonstrated Five Tool/Seven Skill production. Although he was never a walk machine, his strikeout rate was low for a young power hitter, a good sign for his future.
Comparable Players to Vernon Wells: