Vernon Wells’ Injury Opens Door For Young Angels To Shine
When Spring Training broke, the outfield depth of the Angels was one of it’s biggests assets. They had four outfielders on their opening day roster in Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu that looked like they could be starters on most rosters, plus Mark Trumbo who was bouncing all over the place. Add in Mike Trout waiting in the wings at Triple-A Salt Lake, and the Angels were flush with options in their outfield.
Funny how things change in a couple of months. After the sluggish offensive start, the Angels released Abreu and called up Trout to try and give the lineup a spark. Then Torii Hunter was placed on the restricted list when he left the team to deal with his son’s arrest back in Texas. Now, Wells and Ryan Langerhans, who was called up to take Hunter’s roster spot, are both out for extended periods with injuries, and the Angels greatest strength in April is now their thinnest spot in May.
But perhaps this will be a blessing in disguise for the Angels. With the aged veterans out of the way, the Angels and manager Mike Scioscia will now be forced to go with the “outfield of the future” lineup that got fans so excited during Spring Training: Trout in left, Bourjos in center, and Trumbo in right. It isn’t so far-fetched to think that this younger lineup could improve the team’s chances going forward.
In left, Vernon Wells has been a massive disappointment for the money he’s owed. Even so, he’s given some moderate power to the lineup, hitting six home runs this season, and still plays a pretty good defensive left field. Not enough to justify owing hims $63 million over the next three seasons, but at least it’s something. In 640 at-bats as an Angel, Wells is batting .223 with a .255 on-base percentage with 78 RBI. With him now being out 8-10 weeks as he recovers from thumb surgery, Mike Trout will move to left. In the three weeks he’s been with the big league club, he’s hit .350 with a .413 on-base percentage and .600 slugging percentage. He’s stolen six bases and hit four home runs, so he’s got just as much, but probably quite a bit more, offensive pop as Wells. He’s also going to be just as good in left as he has been in center, so the team won’t have to worry about a defensive downgrade.
In right field, the upgrade is a little less obvious. Hunter is still a gold-glove caliber fielder and has been productive at the plate this season. However, before leaving the team to deal with his family crisis, Hunter was in the midst of a pretty prolonged slump. He had also volunteered his spot in right a couple of times per week in order to make sure that Mark Trumbo was still getting in the lineup, and with good reason. Trumbo is putting on quite an encore performance to his breakout rookie season of 2011. He’s still hitting for power, tied for the team lead in home runs with six, and posting a .586 slugging percentage, but the most impressive part about Trumbo this season is his patience at the plate. Notorious for swinging at junk last year, Trumbo leads the active roster in walks (12) and has the second highest on-base percentage (.403) on the team behind only Mike Trout (.413). He’s bought into Jerry Dipoto’s OBP-philosophy and has transformed his approach at the plate. He’s an upgrade in terms of power and brings adequate defense in right with an arm just as strong as Hunter’s.
The center-field transition is a little harder to get excited about. When Trout got called up, he displaced Peter Bourjos, who has started just six of the 22 games since Trout joined the Angels. Bourjos was struggling to produce offense at the plate, as he’s hitting just .194 with an OPS of .545. However, over the same sample-size as Wells, Bourjos is producing better offensive numbers across the board except for power, and he’s considered the best defensive outfielder in the entire Angels organization. He can make roughly the same defensive impact as Erick Aybar does from the shortstop position.
While the old guard of the outfield is away from the team, the “young guns” of the Angels will have a chance to shine. Scioscia has said he expects Hunter to return from Texas possibly by the end of the weekend, but there’s no guarantees, and Wells will likely be out until at least August. Ryan Langerhans was in a sling the day after his injury, so there’s really no timetable yet for when he’ll be ready to return or if he might spend time on the DL. At any rate, Trout-Bourjos-Trumbo are now going to get their shot. What they do with it will go a long way in determining if this team can climb out of the early hole they’ve dug for themselves and give fans some reason to be excited about the future stars of the Halos.