As pitcher, Wells finding his niche
Former catcher adapting to other side of game from mound
MESA, Ariz. -- There is a running joke among young catchers that if someone in the organization sees that you have a good arm, the next day, you'll be converted into a pitcher.
Randy Wells may get the last laugh.
Wells, 23, was drafted as a catcher by the Chicago Cubs in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. That year, he played for the Cubs' rookie team in Mesa, then with Class A Boise. Wells didn't hit over .200 at either level. At Class A Lansing in 2003, he was batting .149 after 24 games.
"Back in '03, I was catching in Lansing and I was struggling and kind of catching once a week," Wells said. "I think it was [scout] Gary Hughes and some of the other Cubs brass who said, 'Let's try him as a pitcher.' "
What prompted the switch?
"Why? His body type, his arm action was real fluid and he had a good, strong arm -- and he wasn't much of a hitter," Hughes said. "He just looked like a pitcher to me."
Evidently, the right-hander not only looks like a pitcher, but he has the potential to be a very good one. Last season at Class A Daytona, Wells was 10-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 41 games -- 10 starts -- and made six appearances at Double-A West Tenn.
"It's kind of crazy," Wells said.
The right-hander has grown into the role. He was 6-foot-1 when first signed. Now, he's 6-foot-5.
"[Pitching] fits me a little better," Wells said. "As a catcher, when I was catching in college, I took every opportunity and took advantage of it. Now, being a pitcher, it's an everyday thing. I'm watching guys like [Kerry Wood] and [Mark] Prior and how they prepare every day. [Greg] Maddux is a great example of how to get movement. I'm just a young guy in camp, and I'm trying to take everything I can out of it."
Catcher Jake Fox was in Lansing at the same time as Wells' conversion, and he caught Wells' first bullpen session.
"It's a different arm action, and you're looking at things from a different perspective," Fox said of the difference between pitching and catching. "You're finally out in front instead of behind. You've got more things to worry about than just what pitch to throw next. Instead, you're worried about how to throw it, how to get it there, how to execute it and all that stuff."
Sounds like pitching is tough mentally.
"Some pitchers have told me that the games they pitch the best are the games when they're not thinking about it," Fox said. "I think it helps [Wells] from the standpoint that he knows how to relate to a catcher. A lot of pitchers don't relate to the other side because they haven't been on the other side."
Wells thought that his time as a catcher would make the conversion easier.
"But when you're out there pitching, I hate to say it, but I feel like I'm the only one out there and I don't see anything else," Wells said. "I'd like to think calling games would help me, but it's totally different. It's up to you to make the decision [of] what you're going to throw."
Wells isn't the only catcher who was converted to a pitcher in Cubs camp. Carlos Marmol, 23, also was switched in 2002, and in 2004, he went 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA at Lansing. Last year, Marmol was 6-2 with a 2.99 ERA in 13 starts at Daytona.
Wells has the basic pitches -- fastball, slider and changeup. He's now tinkering with a two-seamer and a sinker.
"I just stay pretty basic -- just throw strikes and hopefully good things happen," he said.
Did Fox ever consider making the switch?
"Everyone pitched when they were young, but there's a reason I'm behind the plate," Fox said. "I can't play another position besides catcher. I think catching is one of the very few positions that's a skilled position. It's something you have to work hard in practice to be good at. The rest of the positions on the field are more athletic.
"I'm not saying you don't have to be athletic to be a catcher, but it's more of a practiced skill," Fox said. "I feel why I'm good at it is because I put so much time into it. It takes a little extra to be a catcher."
Does Wells miss catching?
"Not anymore," the young pitcher said. "I did at first. But with more success, you keep forgetting about it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.