Vernon Wells is ready for a 'do-over'

February, 25, 2012
2/25/12
1:18
PM PT
After Saturday morning's workout, six Angels players -- Albert Pujols, Vernon Wells, Alberto Callaspo, Kendrys Morales, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis -- crammed onto a golf cart for the trip back to the clubhouse.

Aybar was driving, Izturis was sitting awkwardly on the dashboard and Pujols was practically in Callaspo's lap. That's about 1,300 pounds and $320 million worth of ballplayer, not to mention one bouncy ride.

"We bottomed out a couple times," Wells said.

Vernon Wells
AP Photo/Mark DuncanVernon wells hit .218 last season with an on-base percentage of .248.
Wells knows what it feels like to hit the bottom. His career reached a shocking low in 2011. A .280 hitter entering his first season in Anaheim, Wells put up career lows in batting average (.218), on-base percentage (.248) and doubles (15).

It took enough of a toll on Wells' psyche that he figured something drastic was in order. He hired Chicago Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, one of the most respected teachers in the business, to revamp his swing. He took two weeks off after the season and then got back to work in the cage at his Dallas-area home.

At one point, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers stopped by to get a little work off Wells' pitching machine, which throws curveballs and sliders and can be set to 100-mph-plus velocity.

"Watching them hit off the machine was kind of funny. I was like, 'All right, I'm ahead of these guys,' " Wells said.

Asked what he did wrong last season, Wells said, "Do we have time for this interview?"

He predicted that 2012 would be one of his best seasons to date. In 2006, he batted .303 with 32 home runs and 106 RBIs. Add that to a lineup with Pujols and, possibly, Morales and the Angels could have one of the most potent lineups in baseball. Of course, that's a sentence wrought with uncertainty.

"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," Wells said. "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 fear once I got in the box and that shouldn't be the case."

Home runs -- 25 of them last year -- were Wells' undoing, he said. As his swing became more pull-happy, he lost the ability to drive balls up the middle and to right field. Pitchers learned to prey on that inability, relentlessly pecking at the holes in his swing. The drop in the number of doubles he hit, from 44 to 15 in one year, was the most drastic measure of the breakdown in his swing.

The Angels are heavily invested in Wells' turnaround, literally. They're on the hook to pay him $63 million over the next three seasons. General manager Jerry Dipoto said recently that "Vernon's our left fielder," even with No. 1 prospect Mike Trout applying pressure from below.

"Some of his numbers last year were what we would expect and some were absolutely awful," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think we’re going to see a more consistent Vernon than we did last year. What his numbers are going to be is impossible to tell, but I think you’re going to see more productivity from him."

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
Garrett Richards
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.71 119 116
OTHER LEADERS
BAM. Trout .303
HRM. Trout 20
RBIM. Trout 64
RM. Trout 60
OPSM. Trout .986
ERAG. Richards 2.71
SOG. Richards 119