TEMPE, Ariz. -- For a man who had the lowest batting average and on-base percentage among qualifying players in the Majors last year, Vernon Wells seemed especially confident and enthusiastic when he arrived at the Angels' Spring Training facility on Saturday.
In his mind, several things are working in his favor heading into 2012:
The presence of Albert Pujols will probably slot him lower in the lineup, and is almost certain to take a lot of pressure off Wells as a run-producer.
A change in approach, with an emphasis on staying inside the ball to drive it up the middle and through the right side, should help Wells during a second year of home games in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark.
Most important, an offseason spent training with the acclaimed Rudy Jaramillo, currently the Cubs' hitting coach, has given Wells a whole new batting stance and approach.
Wells now stands more narrow in the batter's box, which should take some pressure off his legs, after so many years playing on turf in Toronto. And when he loads, his hands flow more noticeably -- similar to Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay -- in hopes of more effectively getting on top of the ball.
"With all the preparation and everything I've kind of gone through and gone over this offseason," Wells said, "I'm expecting this to be one of the best years that I've had."
Frankly, it would be hard for 2012 to be any worse.
In his first season in Anaheim last year, Wells mustered 25 homers, but produced an unsightly .218/.248/.412 slash line in 131 games. The biggest indicator of how bad his swing was, he said, was the fact he only had 15 doubles -- after averaging 36 per season while with the Blue Jays from 2002-10.
Wells, now a left fielder who will earn $21 million in each of his next three years, does have a history of bouncing back from rough seasons. But even in 2010 -- when he hit .273 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs before being acquired by the Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera -- he feels he was already starting to get pull-happy and fall into other bad habits, since it's a lot easier to produce at the enclosed Rogers Centre than at wide-open Angel Stadium.
"Despite how frustrating it was, I'm glad I went through it," Wells said of his 2011 struggles. "I think things like that help you. They help you grow as a person and as an athlete. If that didn't happen, I don't think I would've made the changes that I made this offseason, and eventually it would've caught up to me."
Wells took two weeks off at the end of last season, then paid for lessons with Jaramillo and began working with him while the postseason was going on -- initially twice weekly, then eventually once a week as the offseason wore on.
The 33-year-old right-handed hitter came with an open mind and the realization that he needed to start from scratch, something many veterans would struggle to come to grips with.
"That rhythm wasn't quite there last year, and I think right now just watching him swing and us throwing batting practice, he had good rhythm, and that's all I look at," said Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, who threw Wells batting practice on Saturday morning. "It doesn't have to be that much, but as long as there's some kind of movement, some kind of rhythm, I think that's big with any hitter."
Scioscia favors proposed new playoff format
TEMPE, Ariz. - With the deadline now just days away, Major League Baseball and the Players Association are still in discussions about whether the new playoff format will be put in place for the 2012 season, instead of having to wait a year.
Under the new system, a second Wild Card team would be added in each league, with the two Wild Card entrants squaring off in a one-game elimination game to decide who moves on to the original Division Series. Translation: It will be a whole lot more important to win your division.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who's on Commissioner Bud Selig's Special Committee for On-Field Matters, likes it that way.
"I think it should carry an incredible amount of weight to win your division, because I think that's the goal," Scioscia said. "The goal is to win your division, win that flag. You want to move on, with the opportunity for teams who didn't win the division to still work their way into the playoffs. One-and-done is really the only functional way to do it."
On Friday, ESPN quoted anonymous sources saying it was "likely" that the playoffs will be expanded to 10 teams before Thursday's deadline. The biggest hurdle in making it happen for 2012 is scheduling, particularly squeezing those two one-game playoffs in between the end of the regular season and the previously scheduled start to the postseason.
Scioscia likes the one-and-done format for the Wild Card entrants, not only because it benefits division winners, but because it penalizes the teams that clinch late by not allowing them to line up their rotation.
"There's a big difference starting the playoffs with your No. 1 or your No. 4 starters," Scioscia said. "I think that's all stuff that challenges a team to win their division, win it as early as you can, and not give the automatic standing of a division winner to a Wild Card team. In my mind, not only does it make a lot of sense, I think it's the right way to approach it."
Aybar still seeking extension
TEMPE, Ariz. - Erick Aybar arrived at the Angels' Spring Training facility on Saturday - raring to get going, but still without a contract extension.
The Angels and Aybar's representatives negotiated on a potential extension throughout the offseason, but weren't able to agree to terms and instead avoided arbitration via a $5.075 million contract for 2012. The Angels were previously able to sign second baseman Howie Kendrick to a four-year, $33.5 million deal.
Aybar -- who, like Kendrick before his extension, is heading into his final season before free agency -- said his preference is to stay with the Angels, and is willing to negotiate a contract in-season if that's what it takes.
"I think it would be important for me to be here my whole career, because I came here from the Dominican and they've always supported me," Aybar said in Spanish. "But let's see what happens. If they give me the opportunity to stay here, I'll accept that opportunity. I want to win. I want to win a ring, and this year we're in position to do that."
What it will take to lock up Aybar is a separate issue.
Aybar wouldn't go into details about the kind of deal he's seeking, but the Angels may be a little less willing to spend on the 28-year-old shortstop with prospect Jean Segura waiting in the wings.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said a couple of weeks ago that while he's still optimistic about an extension, he doesn't foresee one taking place before the regular season.
"Very much a possibility," Dipoto said then, "but there's nothing imminent and not likely to be anything that occurs before the start of the season. It's possible something could occur [before then], but I wouldn't say it's likely."
Aybar is coming off his best year in 2011, setting career highs in homers (10), RBIs (59), stolen bases (30) and doubles (33) while posting a .322 on-base percentage and winning his first Gold Glove.
"My agents are still negotiating with them, and let's see what happens in the next few days or during the season," Aybar said of a possible extension. "If we can't agree on an extension, I'll just play baseball. Maybe during the season we can talk, too. I just want to stay here. That's it."
Recovering slugger Kendrys Morales did about five or six sprints along the outfield grass again on Saturday and will run in the pool on Sunday.
One day after taking a grounder to the nose, third-base hopeful Mark Trumbo took batting practice but took a day off from the field.
Three Angels fans residing in Anaheim -- Matthew James, Ricardo Marquez and Joseph Meehan -- are among the 30 finalists vying for a spot on the MLB Fan Cave and will be in Spring Training in Arizona next week.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.