Randy Wells has been at the lowest level of professional baseball, trying to climb the organizational ladder. He also reached the pinnacle as a pitcher in the major leagues.
Once a hungry, young player himself, Wells said he will have no trouble relating to the players he will be coaching this summer as the new pitching coach of the Gateway Grizzlies minor league team.
“These guys are hungry, and I want to see if I can help the guys like that,” said the 34-year-old Wells, who pitched for the Chicago Cubs from 2008 to 2012 and also spent time with the Toronto Blue Jays. “As long as you’ve got a uniform on, you’ve always got a shot. You never want somebody to tell you it’s over.”
The Grizzlies compete in the independent Frontier League, which consist of players who have been released by major league teams as well as prospects, former college players and everything in between.
Wells’ playing experience — 10 years in the minors and five in the major leagues — was a big reason why Grizzlies manager Phil Warren decided to hire him when former Grizzlies pitching coach Randy Martz retired after 10 seasons.
Another was the fact that Wells was a catcher throughout his career at Belleville East High School and Southwestern Illinois College. Drafted by the Cubs as a catcher, Wells did not switch to pitching until early in his minor league career.
These guys are hungry and I want to see if I can help the guys like that. As long as you’ve got a uniform on, you’ve always got a shot. You never want somebody to tell you it’s over.
“His motivation stood out to me,” Warren said. “I interviewed 12 candidates for the job, and there were some really good ones in there. He was a former catcher, too, which is big. It’s been tough for me to find catching expertise for the Grizzlies, especially throughout the summer.
“With Randy making that transition at the highest level there is and having success, there’s not many things our players will be able to throw at him that he hasn’t gone through as a player.”
Wells said the transition allowed him to learn even more about another position, something which has benefited him in coaching.
“I had to learn it and I learned it quick, and I kept learning the whole time,” Wells said of the move from catcher to pitcher and how it will help him coaching the Grizzlies. “At that level where kids have either been released or are trying to fulfill a dream, I think I can be a good asset. I’ve been through about everything you could possibly be through on a baseball field.
“Those kids are hungry, and that’s the type of athletes I want to be around.”
With Randy making that transition at the highest level there is and having success, there’s not many things our players will be able to throw at him that he hasn’t gone through as a player.
Grizzlies manager Phil Warren
Wells will continue to be the head baseball coach at Althoff High School, though there could be some overlap in the high school’s and Grizzlies’ seasons in May.
The Grizzlies open the 2017 season May 12 against Florence at GCS Credit Union Ballpark in Sauget.
“There’s an assistant (Grizzlies) pitching coach that can cover them during regional, and if we make a state run then that’s a good problem to have,” Wells said. “I made a commitment to a lot of the kids that are coming in at Althoff and their parents. I didn’t want to quit the Althoff job; that’s another reason this was appealing to me because I can do both.”
In five major league seasons with the Cubs and Blue Jays, Wells was 28-32 with a 4.08 earned-run average in 529 innings. His best season may have been 2009, when he was 12-10 with the Cobs and had a 3.05 ERA.
Wells credited two of his pitching coaches for helping along the way, Cubs minor league pitching instructor Mike Anderson and former Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
“For a guy that’s been at the level he has, to come all the way down to the high school level, a lot of guys would be too proud to do that,” Warren said. “To me it does show he understands it and sometimes you’ve got to work your way up no matter where you’ve been. We don’t know anything about Randy well as a coach, so it’s exciting to see how evolves and how his potential is on the field as a coach.”
Wells and his wife, Caroline, have a 13-month-old son, Rory.
“My wife’s a teacher, so she’s off school in the summer and likes to get back up to Chicago to see her family,” Wells said. “I want (Rory) to be around the game as much as he can, even at a young age.”