Wells ready to live up to his high expectations
Angels outfielder hoping mechanical changes fix his swing
TEMPE, Ariz. -- There's a part of Angels outfielder Vernon Wells that realizes no matter what he does, no matter what numbers he puts up, he'll never please everyone. That's the reality that comes with a seven-year, $126 million deal -- which has three years and $63 million remaining.
"I can go out and hit .290 and put up good numbers, but it might not meet some people's expectations," Wells said. "I'm still going to get worn out about it, just because of the contract. In some people's minds, it doesn't really matter what you do on the field, it just becomes the money factor."
Make no mistake, though, Wells' 2011 season -- the one that finished with the lowest batting average (.218) and on-base percentage (.248) among Major League qualifiers -- missed the mark by all standards.
"Last year was unacceptable, so my driving force is to be the best player I can be and to put together the best year I've had as a professional athlete," said Wells, who hit .288 with an average of 28 homers and 97 RBIs with the Blue Jays from 2002-06. "I think it's possible."
Spring is a time for optimism, a lot of it the overly ambitious kind. But the prevailing sentiment among the Angels about Wells is that he'll bounce back in 2012 -- because he'll be better acquainted with his new surroundings, because new mechanics should improve his swing and because, frankly, it's hard to do much worse.
"I think he's back," hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "Big time."
"I think -- no, I know he's going to have a better season than last year," said Wells' good friend and spring locker neighbor Torii Hunter.
"Just because he's comfortable," Hunter added. "I don't know how much better, but it's going to be better."
Wells, who went 1-for-2 with a stolen base against the Rangers on Sunday, finished the day hitting .286 (12-for-42) with a couple of homers and 11 RBIs in 15 Cactus League games, after an offseason in which he worked with Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo on mechanical tweaks in his stance and swing.
Wells now looks slightly different at the plate. His hands are lower, and his body is a little more upright, which Hatcher believes has made a major difference in his swing path.
"But it's just more approach; that's the biggest thing," Wells pointed out. "When I'm getting ready, as long as I'm getting set on time, it allows me to attack when I need to attack and lay off when I need to."
Last year, Wells was just one of several players to struggle on a new team, along with Adam Dunn of the White Sox, Jayson Werth of the Nationals, Carl Crawford of the Red Sox and Dan Uggla of the Braves.
"Just a fluke," Hunter called Wells' season.
Wells isn't quite sure what to make of his spring. He's had some good stretches and some bad ones. He has squared some balls up nicely and looked bad on others, gone through times when he'll foul off mistakes and times when he'll turn them into line-drive hits.
"There's no doubt he's hitting the ball better straight away than he did last year," manager Mike Scioscia said, "but we'll see if it carries over into the season."
The most important thing for Wells now is that he'll get 50-60 at-bats this spring, a number he normally likes to reach.
And that the swagger is back.
"I'm in a completely different place now," Wells said. "A lot of that is just having that quiet cockiness of, 'You're in trouble when I get in the box.'"
Wells admits that feeling "wasn't where it needed to be" last year, which is just a reminder that the Angels' left fielder is human -- with real emotions and, when times get tough, real uncertainties. The constant criticism, the negative articles, the outside trade demands, the "overpaid" descriptions and the boos that occasionally trickled down from Angel Stadium wouldn't be an easy thing for anyone to take.
But Hunter believes Wells handled it as well as one can.
"I'm pretty sure he was worried about that," Hunter said. "I mean, it's natural. But at the same time, he went out there every day, he faced the music -- he was a man -- and did what he had to do. He didn't ask for days off, he didn't ask for a breather. He just went out there and faced the music every day, while he was struggling and the team was struggling."
Wells' current contract has brought him a lot of money, but also a rather large bull's-eye.
Is it a gift and a curse?
"Not at all," Wells said. "It is what it is. It's money. Some people put way too much value into that. I signed a contract, and it gave me the ability to not only bless my family, but to bless so many people around me.
"It all comes down to how much value you put on things in this Earth. If you're stuck on material things and things of this world, then yeah, it's going to suck you in. But I have a wonderful family and I'm blessed to play this game, so the good and the bad, I appreciate it."
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.