Prospect Profile: Ben Wells

In Minor Leagues by Obstructed View Staff16 Comments

After we started doing the minor league recaps, I quickly noticed that Ben Wells was absent from the list. He's certainly not the best pitching prospect the Cubs have, but he might be the one who is closest to making an impact at the big league level.

I'm planning to write at least one of these profiles per week. Early on at least, they will be about prospects that Dave and I did not rate prior to the start of the season. Of the 21 we did (15 positional prospects and 6 pitching prospects), we should have included Ben Wells.

Who is Ben Wells?

ben-wellsWells was drafted in the 7th round in 2010 out of Bryant High School in Arkansas. A total of 6 players have been drafted out of this high school and 3 of them were in 1995. The most recent before Wells is the only one to reach the big leagues. Current Cub Travis Wood was drafted in the 2nd round out of the same high school.

He's listed at 6-2, 220 pounds, but I've seen him referred to of being at least 6-4. Fangraphs lists him at 6-3.

In high school, Wells was higly thought of. He had 3rd round talent, but fell to the 7th round when the Cubs picked him. In order to sign, they gave him 3rd round money.

Even by Jim Hendry standards, the contract he signed Ben Wells to was unusual. It's common for teams to pay for 4 years of college tuition for high school draft picks should they want to go to college at some point. So there was nothing unusual about that clause in his contract. What's odd is that the Cubs were also required to add Wells to the 40-man roster in 2013.

There's no word as far as I can tell at what point in 2013 he must be added. He's not currently on the 40-man roster. He's not eligible for the rule 5 draft until next year since he was not yet added to the roster. I just don't know whether or not he has to be added at the end of the season.

Where is he?

That odd clause in his contract may explain why the Cubs started Ben Wells in High A. He only pitched 45 innings last season as he was out much of the year with an elbow injury. It seemed odd to me that the Cubs would move Wells to High A Daytona.

He missed more than 2 months last season and didn't return until the end of August. After his return, he pitched an inning in rookie ball and then returned to A ball in Peoria. He made 2 starts, pitched 2 innings in each one, allowed a total of 5 hits, walked 4, hit a batter, threw 2 wild pitches and struckout only 1.

There's a lot of time between last year and the start of this season, but a promotion to Daytona would, based on the info we have, appear to be hurrying him along. I'm just not sure you promote a 20 year old after elbow injuries unless there's there are roster considerations to be made. What do I know though?

Is he any good?

Wells has always gotten a ton of ground balls. He also has very good control and not just for someone his age. There's a lot to like about someone who keeps the ball on the ground and throws strikes. Keeping the ball on the ground prevents home runs and throwing strikes obviously limits the walks, which are two of the more important aspects of pitching. On the other hand, he's not been someone who has struck a lot of batters out, but his control has been so good, that may not even matter.

Wells throws a sinker, slider, changeup and occasional splitter. Hit hits 90-94 with the fastball. His career walk percentage is just 5.8% and his strikeout rate is 17.3%. Despite not being a strikeout pitcher, his K-BB% is more than acceptable.

Because he keeps the ball on the ground so much, he's going to give up a lot of hits. He's allowed 138 hits and a total of 13 baserunners per 9 innings, which is a lot.

While there is a lot to like, the sample size is quite small to this point. Despite being drafted in 2010, he's only thrown a total of 126.1 innings. He hasn't shown the ability to pitch deep into games or pitch every sixth day on a consistent basis. Elbow problems at his age are obviously not a good thing.

He hasn't made any top prospect lists like some of the other Cubs pitchers. He's not a top 10 Cubs prospect and according to John Sickels, he's not even in their top 20. Sickels gave him a C+ grade each of the last two years. Sickels claims he has number 3 upside. Fangraphs gave him the upside of a number 3 or number 4.

Since I'm an optimist, I think it's a bit higher than that. Anybody who can keep the ball on the ground and keep throwing strikes has some legitimate potential. I don't believe he has ace upside. He's doesn't have the upside that some of the other Cubs pitchers have either.

OV Prospect Rating (see here for explanation and here for top prospects)

The other day I threw out a rating of 7F for Wells, but after looking into it more, that's too high an upside. I'd give him a rating of 5.5D. I think he can be a bit better than your average rotation guy, but probably not a whole lot better. Due to the elbow injury so early in his career, he has a very low floor.

A 5.5D would give a score of 40, which puts him at the bottom of our ranking, tied with Josh Vitters and Juan Paniagua.

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  1. Myles

    Wells almost seems the definition of a back-end innings eater. Groundballer with 3 pitches who works in the zone? Easy. Of course, elbow issues mean that you’re playing with fire.

    Great write-up.

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  2. Author

    Yeah, but maybe he comes up as a reliever and then shifts to the rotation like F7 and CJ Wilson. That way they can manage innings and fulfill the contract.

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  3. Myles

    SVB wrote:

    Yeah, but maybe he comes up as a reliever and then shifts to the rotation like F7 and CJ Wilson. That way they can manage innings and fulfill the contract.

    There are plenty of prospects on the 40-man that don’t really threaten the 25-man. Plus, the Cubs have fungible Raley/Rusin types that no one will miss.

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