Vernon Wells came west to the Angels last year after spending 12 years as a Toronto Blue Jay. He responded to the move by having the worst season at the plate in his career, and by a long shot. Wells was a career .280 hitter when he came to the Angels, but finished 2011 with career lows in batting average (.218), on-base percentage (.248), OPS (.660), doubles (15), and walks (20). He also finished with the third highest strikeout total in his career with 86 and was by all accounts a bust in left field for the Halos. Magnifying the failure was the enormous paycheck Wells is collecting from the team ($26 million in 2012, $63 million over next three years), and the fact his presence in left is blocking everyone’s favorite prospect Mike Trout from making his debut as an every day big leaguer. Wells recognized his severe shortcomings and took some drastic steps to change things for 2012.
The first step in the Wells-offseason-rejuvenation project was to hire the services of Chicago Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who is considered one of the best teachers in baseball, to revamp his swing. Then Wells took just two weeks off after the end of last season to refresh his batteries before getting to work in his personal cage at his home in Dallas. The cage is equipped with a pitching machine that throws curves and sliders, and can be dialed up to hit 100-mph with a fastball. His setup was so nice, that other players stopped by to use it, including Michael Young and Ian Kinsler of the Rangers. After watching them, Wells was able to evaluate how his offseason program was going.
“Watching them hit off the machine…I was like, ‘All right, I’m ahead of these guys,” Wells said.
“I think it’s a matter of getting that swagger back and knowing each time you get in the box, you have a chance to do damage…That puts fear in the pitcher. I don’t think there’s a pitcher out there, with the exception of a week here or there, that had fearonce I got int he box and that shouldn’t be the case.”
Wells seems to be regaining that swagger and is predicting 2012 will be one of his best seasons to date. For what that may look like, we turn to 2006, where Wells hit .303 with 32 home runs and 106 RBIs. If he were able to get around that kind of production to go along with the beefed up lineup of Albert Pujols and a healthy Kendrys Morales (assuming Morales returns to form as well), the Angels would immediately become one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball this season.
That’s a pretty big assumption, however, seeing as how Wells was extremely bad last season. Wells has pinpointed what went wrong, though, so he can work this season to avoid it from happening again. According to Wells, his undoing last season was his 25 home runs, or rather his trying to hit nothing but. As his swing became more pull-happy trying to hit it out of the park, he lost the ability to drive the ball up the middle and to right field. Opposing pitchers picked up on that tendency and immediately began taking advantage in the holes of his swing. Wells felt the breakdown was best illustrated by his drastic drop in doubles; he had 44 in 2011, but only 15 in 2011.
The Angels meanwhile are 100% behind their left fielder and believe he’ll be able to turn it around this year. GM Jerry Dipoto has unequivocally stated that “Vernon’s our left fielder,” to the media this spring and manager Mike Scioscia has faith Wells’ offseason work is going to yield results for the Angels this season.
“Some of his numbers last year were what we would expect and some were absolutely awful…I think we’re going to see a more consistent Vernon than we did last year…I think you’re going to see more productivity from him.”
Let’s hope so, Mike. I don’t think fans could stand a season watching him be any less productive. With Vernon’s renewed swagger and the confidence of the organization behind him, will Wells finally become the big hitting left fielder for the middle of the lineup that the Angels expected him to be? If so, the heart of the Angels lineup is going to be putting fear into a lot of opposing pitching.