Position previews: Left field

February, 8, 2012
2/08/12
11:43
AM PT
Now, we've reached the hot-potato portion of our series.

Nothing gets Angels fans more riled up than thinking about left field; specifically, the brutal 2011 season of left fielder Vernon Wells. What makes it particularly galling to many fans is the perception that uber-prospect Mike Trout, who crashed into the major leagues as a teenager last year, is being blocked by the well-paid, underperforming veteran.

[+] EnlargeVernon Wells
Brad White/Getty ImagesVernon Wells is the Angels left fielder, and the team's GM is confident Wells can rebound from an awful 2010 season.
Which figures to make the following comment by general manager Jerry Dipoto like nails on a chalkboard to some fans: "Vernon's our left fielder."

Dipoto made that statement Wednesday, when I asked him whether there will be a measure of competition for the spot this spring.

Of course, it's not strictly about talent. The Angels are on the hook to pay Wells $63 million over the next three seasons -- this for a player with the worst on-base percentage (.248) and the sixth-worst batting average (.218) in the major leagues last year among qualifying players. Few teams would be willing to leave that kind of money on their bench.

To say it's a potential conundrum is an understatement. It's widely viewed as the move that cost the last GM, Tony Reagins, his job.

Having inherited the issue, Dipoto is stuck hoping for the best.

Dipoto said he is "very confident" Wells will have a bounce-back season, citing 2008 and 2010 as examples of Wells recovering from sub-par seasons the year before.

"Being 33 years old is not archaic or over the hill by any means in baseball," Dipoto said. "He's still a very athletic guy, he plays above-average defense and he hit 25 home runs. He struggled, but he still found ways of contributing. The guy has 13 years of major league experience. In some way, shape or form, he'll get out of this."

Dipoto, a reliever, was traded twice as a player and called it "jarring both times." Perhaps the Angels' best hope for a rebound season from Wells is that he'll be more comfortable in his second season in Anaheim after playing his entire career in Toronto.

Dipoto said the Angels "will make sure [Trout] is playing every day, regardless of where he is," which seems to rule out a spot for the 20-year-old speedster on the major-league roster on Opening Day. That assumes that all three starting outfielders are healthy.

Trout batted .220 with five home runs in 123 at-bats with the Angels last year and retains his rookie status entering 2012. His next game at Triple-A will be his first, as the Angels summoned him to Anaheim directly from the team's Double-A Arkansas affiliate twice last year.

"Guys who make their debuts as teenagers are in a selective class. He's got a huge upside and we'll make sure he gets his reps. With our current setup, there's no reason to rush him," Dipoto said.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jered Weaver
WINS ERA SO IP
18 3.59 169 213
OTHER LEADERS
BAH. Kendrick .293
HRM. Trout 36
RBIM. Trout 111
RM. Trout 115
OPSM. Trout .939
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOJ. Weaver 169