Casper Wells isn’t the most talented player on Detroit’s Top 11 Prospects list, but he just might be the most entertaining. A television and film major in college, the affable outfielder can both swing a productive bat and drive his teammates batty with his unique blend of wit, wisdom, and spot-on impersonations. Wells followed up on an outstanding 2008 campaign by hitting a solid .260/.369/.489 with 15 home runs in just 311 at-bats with Double-A Erie this season. More recently, he hit a show-stopping .351/.433/.662 while helping the Peoria Javelinas to the Arizona Fall League championship. Wells talked to BP upon the conclusion of the AFL season.
Casper Wells: Well, Lisa asked me to describe myself, and I was like, “Geez, I don’t know. You might have to ask someone else about that one.” J.D. was walking past the dugout, so she asked him about me, and I guess that’s what he came up with. But yeah, I do like to have a good time in the clubhouse. You could even ask the guys here, because it’s actually easier in this environment, in the [Arizona] Fall League. It’s a little more stressful during the regular season, but here, everyone is in the same boat and no one is really competing, at least not the same way. Essentially, everyone is having a good time and gets along pretty well, which is conducive to a fun and entertaining environment.
DL: How important is camaraderie in baseball?
CW: Oh, it just shows. Our team is having a great time, and when we were doing well in Erie this year, and having a great time on the field, and off the field, in the clubhouse, it definitely… it’s like a family situation, almost, like your brother is up to bat. You want to root him on. It’s the same here, so it’s almost going to be sad when these guys leave. You create different types of relationships, and you hold onto them. And it definitely shows on the field, when you play together and have fun in the clubhouse, so you want to keep that up. The positiveness, and the goofing around kind of stuff, helps to create a relaxing environment, which is important in the game of baseball, because it helps to alleviate all of that stress. The game can be so negative at times.
DL: In which ways can baseball be negative?
CW: Well, for starters, if you fail 70 percent of the time, you have a chance to be a Hall of Famer. If you hit .300, you still failed 70 percent of the time, so if you look at not getting a hit as failure… there are a lot of negative things that you can bring to the game of baseball, so it’s important to focus on the positive things, and not dwell on the negative things that might happen. That’s something that is definitely learned with time. At this level, most of us had so much success when we were younger, whether it was playing Little League or in high school. If you were a good player, you probably excelled and didn’t really have to deal much with failure. A lot of guys come out of college, having succeeded so much, and when they become a professional, things get a lot more stressful and they begin to put more pressure on themselves.
DL: What were the negatives for you this past season?
CW: There were a lot of mental obstacles to overcome. There were concerns coming off the injury about my power; that was in the back of my mind. I had broken the hamate bone in my left hand, and I was nowhere near 100 percent when I came back. I felt well enough to play and compete at a high level, but my hand was definitely not 100 percent. That was on my mind every time I was taking swings. It did help that it was warmer when I came back, because I had been in Florida rehabbing, and I could feel it a little more when the weather was colder toward the end of the season in Erie. So, I was thinking about coming back from an injury, and maybe putting pressure on myself about being back in Erie, but those kinds of things help you learn. They’re valuable lessons, because they help mold you into the type of player you want to be.
DL: Your slugging percentage this year was .489. Given the hamate injury, are you surprised it was that good?
CW: In all honesty, I was kind of surprised by the numbers I put up, especially my home run total. In fact, I was definitely surprised at that. I didn’t know if my power… that’s something that usually lacks when you have an injury like mine. So, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the numbers, and toward the end of the season I picked it up significantly and felt pretty confident. I was able to carry that into Arizona, and feel confident that I can compete, even through an injury, and that will be helpful in the future if I have to overcome an injury again.
DL: Did you make any mechanical adjustments to compensate for the injury?
CW: I kind of did. My front leg is a little more open now, but that just kind of happened. I kind of cheated a little bit for the inside pitch, because I wasn’t getting there at first with my hands. My hands weren’t strong enough to get to inside pitches as well, so I opened up a little to be able to see that inside pitch a little better. Other than that, not too much really changed. I still have the same tall stance and stuff. It’s just been little, subtle adjustments. Actually, I’ve made a few subtle adjustments out here in Arizona that have helped me a lot. Our hitting coach here, Gary Ward, has worked with me on some things that should help me out going into spring training.
DL: Was the slight opening of your stance done on your own, or was it suggested by a coach?
CW: Pretty much everything I’ve done… I’m at a level now where the coaches, and everyone who works with you, don’t really change you around too much. I just communicated with some of the coaches and said, “This feels pretty good; what do you think of it?” I was like, “I could work with this.” Out here, Gary Ward has said, “I think you need to stay back a little more,” because sometimes I lunge forward a little bit. He’s worked with me on fine-tuning that a little bit.
CW: I think that, a lot of times, managers and hitting coaches say things a certain way, that… they say the same things, but in different ways. For an individual hitter, it’s just the way you relate to him. For example, if I was a little late with my timing, I might hear something like, “Get your foot down.” For me, that doesn’t translate very well. I hear, “Get your foot down,” and I don’t really know what to do, what to work on, to get my foot down. But if it’s, “Get that stride out a little earlier,” or “Stride when the pitcher is here,” that’s something I can relate to a little better. So, a lot of it is the way coaches say a certain thing. Even if it’s the same idea, they’re saying it in a different way, and that can have a real impact. It’s kind of like when you’re in school. If someone is teaching you something you’re not that interested, let’s say it’s history, maybe they can put a little spin on it to make it more fun. That’s basically what it is.
DL: You’ve played for Tom Brookens each of the past two seasons. What influence has he had on you?
CW: He’s really helped me, especially this year. He’s helped to sculpt me, because last year I was kind of all over the place. He was actually my manager back when I was in the New York-Penn League too, and I’m sure he’d tell you that I’m a completely different player now than I was then, with the limited playing time I got when he was managing there. It’s just a totally different scene for me now. He’s sculpted me, and kind of fine-tuned some of the things I do. Like, defensively, he made sure I didn’t make any… sometimes I like to make throws, from center field, and try to back-pick a guy off for a double play, if he’s getting off too far. I’ve done that numerous times, and while I haven’t thrown any balls away doing it, he’s reiterated that you need to know what you need to do. You shouldn’t always try to be superman out there and throw everyone out. Sometimes your job is to hit the cutoff and play under control. He’s really helped me out with the mental aspect of the game, trying to make me more consistent and closer to being a big-league-ready player. He’s done a lot. He’s worked with me in the cage, making sure I stay through balls, and stuff. Everything he does is meant to help you get to the big leagues.
DL: What was it like watching Alex Avila get called up the big leagues and perform well once he got there?
CW: It was awesome. I watched him, and I watched him in big league camp, and he has a great approach at the plate. It’s one that I would love to be able to emulate, just being quiet and having such a good eye. He’s just very consistent, and it shows, because it translated into him getting hits in the big leagues. It’s great to see young guys do well up there. It gives a boost of confidence to all of us younger guys when we see someone like Alex, or Wilkin [Ramirez], get an opportunity, and then watch them succeed. It’s definitely awesome.
DL: Who were some of the position players in Erie that a lot of fans might not know about, but probably should?
CW: We had a bunch of guys come through for us this year. Ronnie Bourquin got called up [to Erie] and was swinging the bat for us really well at the end, when we were fighting for a playoff spot. Michael Bertram also got called up and was swinging the bat really well. I think he got Player of the Week the last couple of weeks; he was swinging a hot stick. And [Brennan] Boesch was there all year, and [Ryan] Strieby as well. Strieby hurt his wrist a little bit, more so when I came back, so I didn’t get to play with him as much, but he’s one of the guys with a solid approach at the plate. I think we had a solid team all around, pretty much. There wasn’t an easy out in our lineup. Injuries held us back a little, but that’s just part of the game.
DL: Changing direction a bit, you studied television and film at Towson State. What does that say about you?
CW: I’ve always been a character, so to speak, to put it in terms of how a lot of people describe me. Growing up, a lot of my teachers said they wanted to see me further my career in things like acting, so when I got to college, I decided that I wanted to do film. That’s what I did, although unfortunately I couldn’t do much film work, because it was too time consuming. It was my major, but I had a lot of time constraints with baseball, and there was also the money situation, because film is pretty expensive, and I ended up getting on a television track. I got a Mac computer my sophomore year, and I could do all of my editing right on my computer, so that worked out pretty well. I got a camera and shot some footage of some pretty cool stuff. I just really enjoy film; it makes me feel good. I also really like music, although I probably wouldn’t get involved with it as much; I mostly just like listening to it. But I do want to be involved in movies, because I feel that I have a creative mind and would be able to contribute more to film, and stuff like that. Towson actually has a pretty good film program.
DL: I’m guessing that most of the movies you see in the clubhouse, and on the bus, aren’t exactly cinematic masterpieces. Do you look at them with a more discerning eye than your teammates?
CW: When I was in school, I looked at films a lot differently, because I was studying them. Now, I just kind of try to enjoy them, and I like to watch a lot of the comedies. But yeah, I definitely have a different perspective watching some of the movies. Guys will say stuff, and I’ll tell them, “Look, this movie sucks.” Then they’ll say to me, “Well, if a film major is telling me that, then it must be a bad movie.” They’ll kind of bust my balls about it. But, overall, I’m sure I have a different perspective when we’re on the bus watching Ace Ventura or Dumb and Dumber.
DL: In the interview with Lisa Winston, you said that you’re surprised that people never ask you about your name. That obligates me to ask: What’s up with your name?
CW: It’s so weird now. Because I’m a little older, people accept it just like a common name. I’ll tell them that my name is Casper, and there’s no look, there’s no, “Really?” When I was younger, like elementary school, and middle school, it was like, “Casper the Friendly Ghost, hahaha.” Then, in high school, it was more like, “So, is that your nickname, or is actually your real name?” When college came around, it became more like, “Oh, that’s so cool.” Now, it’s kind of nothing. I expect people to say something, but even this year, it was just, “Oh, Casper.” I guess that sometimes a guy will ask me where the name came from, and I’m actually the fifth Casper in the family. My aunt did a bunch of research, and there was a Casper Wells back in Germany, several generations ago. I’m Casper Charles Wells the second, but I’m Casper Wells the fifth.
CW: Last year in the Fall League, I called Tommy Hanson “Hansy Pantsy,” and he’d call me “Caspy Pantsy.” That’s just one of the many nicknames that we called each other. This fall, [Tigers prospect] Robbie Weinhardt’s nickname was “Snobby Robbie.” He’s not a snob at all, but I just kid around with my boy Robs because he used to get mad when we’d all call him that. I can’t say enough how much of a fun experience the Fall League has been the last two years. You make some great friends, and have good times, with great memories. Baseball can be a lot of fun.