Casper Wells got the best birthday present a professional baseball player looking to get a crack playing major league baseball could get.
On Nov. 21, two days before Wells turned 24, the Detroit
Tigers called him and told him he made the team’s 40-man roster. When spring training commences in Lakeland, Fla., in mid-February, the 2002 Schenectady High School graduate will have a chance of making the team.
With the baseball winter meetings starting today, Wells will be interested to see if the Tigers make any moves. Wells is one of nine outfielders on the roster that includes Curtis Granderson and Magglio Ordonez.
“We have a lot of outfielders,” Wells said. “But just based on how the season went this year, it’s a pretty good shot that I can get a good chance to go up there, whether it’s in September, when they have open roster [spots] and call-ups. Maybe some roster moves will he made, as far as [trading] outfielders to bringing in some more pitching. That could open up some space for me.”
Wells, a 14th-round selection by Detroit in the 2005 draft out of Towson (Md.) University, opened plenty of eyes in the Tigers’ front office this past season.
He started the season with Western Michigan of the Class A Midwest League. In 50 games, Wells batted .240 with 10 homers and 26 RBI. Wells was promoted to the Erie SeaWolves of the Class AA Eastern League, and he got better. He hit . 289 with 17 homers and 53 RBI. He finished the season with a combined .269 average with 27 homers and 79 RBI, along with 25 doubles, six triples and 25 stolen bases.
But Wells wasn’t done. He headed off to the Arizona Fall League, and excelled again. He batted .321 with eight homers and 23 RBI in 23 games.
Had the Tigers not put Wells on their 40-man roster, he would have been available in the Rule 5 draft. The draft aims to prevent teams from stockpiling too many young players on their minor league teams when other teams would be willing to have them play in the majors. If a team picks a player in the Rule 5 draft, that player must stay on the major league club the entire year,
“Other teams, from hearsay, were interested in me,” Wells said. “For Detroit, the only way to prevent that was for me to have a good fall and force them to put me on the 40-man roster. That way, another team couldn’t take me.
“It’s nice to come to that, to be added to the 40-man roster with an organization that knows you really well, knows where you came from. I came from the bottom of the totem poll in the Gulf Coast [League] my first year, being in short-season [New York-Penn League in Oneonta] two years. They’ve really seen me mature and develop as professional baseball player, and as a person.”
What Dan Lunetta, the Tigers’ director of minor league operations, has noticed the most is Wells’ mental approach to the game.
“Casper is the one player in our system this year who made the made the most significant advance relative to his prospect status,” Lunetta said. “I saw a different player in spring training this year, unlike we had seen in the past. Sometimes, you see a difference, or a change in a player’s demeanor, and the way he approaches the game, his focus, the intensity to which he approached the game this year was in stark contrast to what I had seen in years past. It’s not indicative that Casper didn’t approach the game the right way before this year, but he came after it this year with a passion and with heart that you love to see in every player.”
Wells credits Tigers roving hitting instructor Toby Harrah and SeaWolves hitting coach Glenn Adams with changing his stance. It was a stance he used when he played for Schenectady.
“[They] suggested that I stand a little taller on my stance. I was
really wide,” Wells said. “They had me stand taller, just try to get my hips and legs involved a lot more. It just led to me getting more power. When I hit the ball, the ball would carry a lot more, and I was more consistent hitting the ball.”
Lunetta believes Wells will most likely start the next season somewhere in the Tigers’ farm system.
“I think there would have to be extraordinary circumstances for us to see Casper with the big league team coming out of spring training,” Lunetta said. Hopefully, he’ll have a good camp, he’ll go to Triple-A and play well there, and then let everything take care of itself from there.”