Former pitcher, Wells thriving as hitter
Outfielder impressing Mariners with power, strong defense
SEATTLE -- Raised in upstate New York, Casper Wells grew up a Yankees fan -- it was only normal. But when it came time for Wiffle ball in the yard with his younger twin sisters, it was all about those guys across the country in the Emerald City.
Wells, who arrived from Detroit on Saturday by way of the Doug Fister trade, used to mimic some of his favorite Mariners players, such as Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Tino Martinez and Alex Rodriguez.
"I used to always emulate Jay Buhner, because I always hit the most home runs hitting tall like him," said Wells, an outfielder. "I guess it's kind of funny that I'm here now."
Also funny was the five-second exchange Wells had with a certain someone after batting practice on Tuesday. Wells was heading back from the dugout, and, just as he walked into the clubhouse, Edgar Martinez -- one of Seattle's all-time greats -- was walking out.
Wells stuck his hand out and introduced himself to a player he used to imitate during those Wiffle ball days as a youngster.
"Edgar Martinez, man," said Wells, shaking his head. "I watched those guys on TV. I grew up a Yankees fan, but I just liked Ken Griffey Jr. and the team they used to have, with A-Rod, Tino, Edgar, Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson. I used to be a big fan of those guys, especially in the video games."
Who knew the 26-year-old had such connections to the Mariners? Wells made his club debut on Sunday and blasted his first home run with Seattle on Tuesday against Oakland. He's reached base safely in his first four games and is hitting .400 (6-for-15).
But would it also surprise you that Wells, who played in 64 games and hit .257 with 10 doubles and four homers as a Tiger, wasn't always a hitter?
In fact, it wasn't until he was drafted by Detroit in 2005 that Wells officially began to make the change from pitcher to position player. While growing up and starring for Schenectady High School, the 6-foot-2 Wells was mostly throwing heat instead of knocking base hits.
"When I was in high school, I primarily was a pitcher," he said, sitting in front of his new locker in the Mariners' clubhouse. "I didn't really have an approach when hitting. I just tried to hit home runs all the time."
Wells, the first Major Leaguer with the first name Casper and the fifth Casper Wells in his family, was recruited out of high school as a pitcher. He chose to attend Baltimore's Towson University, where he majored in film. Soon enough, Wells began bugging his Towson coaches to let him hit more. He was getting bored with only pitching and needed something to balance it out with.
"I'm kind of like a two-way guy," says Wells.
So one day during batting practice, Towson head coach Mike Gottlieb gave his pitcher a chance to show his stuff. Wells began launching balls every which way, and it was enough to earn him the designated-hitter spot on the team a few months later.
Turned out to be a pretty good choice.
"If [Gottlieb] never let me hit, who knows where I'd be?" Wells remarked.
Wells finished his collegiate career with a .351 average, the sixth-highest batting average in school history. He was the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year in 2005 and was a second-team All-American that season.
Yet the pitching talent was still there. As a starter during his junior season, the right-handed Wells finished 6-0. It wasn't until he was drafted in 2005 that pitching officially became an afterthought, and it was all about hitting.
But as a former "two-way guy," Wells began to miss pitching when he reached the Rookie League.
"I wasn't getting that much playing time, and I still felt like I could throw harder than half the pitchers we had," Wells recalled. "I had pretty good stuff, and I thought, 'I could try this pitching thing out.'
"Pitching, I felt, always came pretty naturally and easy to me. Hitting was always the difficult thing for me, as far as pitchers throwing offspeed and actually pitching."
Wells was drafted to hit home runs -- not throw strikes -- so he had to bear down and figure out how to become better at the plate. With no pitching outlet, it was hitting all day, every day.
It wasn't all easy.
"At least when I used to pitch, if I wasn't hitting well, I could go out and pitch, and if I wasn't pitching well, I could still go hit," he said. "That was kind of like my fallback in college, but when I started in the pros, I'd sometimes have tough times dealing with that hitting mentality. But I got through it, and now I don't really think about pitching at all."
Funny how these things work out. Wells improved his bat, while at the same time figuring out a way to utilize his strong arm in the outfield.
And though he still contemplates what kind of a pitcher he would have become, he is happy with the hitter he is.
Does he miss pitching now?
"No, no, I like hitting. Especially at the Major League level," he said. "I don't really know what starting pitching is like here or anything, but hitting is awesome -- nothing like hitting a home run or driving a ball. Hitting is just really fun. You play every day."
The charismatic Wells, who says acting is something he might try after baseball, has been in the Pacific Northwest for less than a week, but his bat has already made a lot of noise.
He recorded his first hit as a Mariner in his debut on Sunday, and his first homer followed soon after. Seattle manager Eric Wedge has enjoyed the instant offense, but the skipper, who is in his first year with the club, has been even more pleased with Wells' defense. Wells has started in left field three times and right field once since the trade.
"I've been very impressed with him in the outfield," Wedge said. "I'm very impressed with his athleticism and quickness in the outfield."
So, yes, Wells is fitting in quite nicely with the Mariners, both on and off the field. He has a long way to go, but at this rate, there could eventually be a 10-year-old in New York who emulates Casper Wells during backyard Wiffle ball.
Taylor Soper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.