Wells ready to start new chapter with Angels

Wells ready to start new chapter with Angels

TEMPE, Ariz. -- On what he called "my first day at school," Vernon Wells made the rounds in the Angels' clubhouse on Friday morning at Tempe Diablo Stadium, greeting each of his new teammates -- not that they needed any introduction.

A household name throughout the game, Wells was the club's high-profile, high-cost offseason acquisition from Toronto. A three-time All-Star and three-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner at center field, he is prepared to make the move to left, following the path of Torii Hunter, who shifted to right for the final two months last season.

That's 12 Gold Gloves Peter Bourjos will have moved out of center if he holds down the job, as expected. Wells caught enough of Bourjos running down balls in gaps last year to realize how special this outfield can be, and he's eager to get started in his new home, on natural grass, in Southern California.

"If I end up playing left," Wells said, "I want to be the best left fielder in the game. And I'll work hard to be that."

With Hunter already having taken that attitude to right after racking up nine Gold Gloves in center, manager Mike Scioscia feels he'll have an outfield that will stand with any in the game.

"As athletic as Vernon is," Scioscia said, "we're excited putting those pieces together. Continuity in the outfield is going to come from Peter Bourjos' range in center if that works out, along with the guys on the wings."

Wells has been almost exclusively a center fielder in his nine full seasons in Toronto, along with pieces of three others. He has never appeared in left during the regular season -- he's been in right 16 times, while playing 1,320 games in center.

But he's not entirely alien to the turf in left at Angel Stadium.

In a fairly amazing coincidence, given what would transpire months later with both players, Wells replaced Carl Crawford in left for the American League in the All-Star Game last July in Anaheim.

"I got a couple of balls," Wells said. "Caught 'em."

He is aware of the many adjustments that await him: playing angles, walls and corners; seeing the ball travel differently off the bat, with hooks and slices ... and yielding at times to a center fielder who will be covering mounds of ground in a heartbeat.

"I've been around long enough to know the stadiums and what I need to do," Wells said. "It's a matter of learning angles, being one step ahead of everyone else."

The Padres' Dave Roberts ran knee first into the concrete base in the left-field corner at Angel Stadium a few years ago and was fortunate to avoid serious injury. Wells, like Hunter, has learned to respect immovable objects.

"If there's a wall," he said, "I'm slowing down."

Hunter needed a little time to psychologically adjust to leaving center, his private paradise. Wells seems to have a firm grasp on that aspect of the transition.

"It's what both of us are used to," he said, referring to roaming center with abandon, "so it's going to be a change. Pride? No. There's a lot more preparation that's going to go into it, but once I'm prepared, I won't be thinking about it.

"Pretty much when the ball's hit, go catch it."

And when men are on base, make strong, accurate throws, something Wells always has done.

"There are things in left field he's going to bring, especially in our park with his range," Scioscia said. "He's going to shut down first-to-third with his arm.

"With Torii in right, Peter Bourjos in center and Vernon in left, we're going to control a lot of the running game that was troubling us early last year."

The Angels had heavily armed outfields with the likes of Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Darin Erstad, Tim Salmon, Chone Figgins, Jose Guillen and Vladimir Guerrero. Runners advanced at their own risk.

Asked if Wells can be a great left fielder, Scioscia didn't hesitate.

"He can, absolutely," he said. "But I don't think there's pressure on him to be a great left fielder. You're not talking about impacting the game as much in left as in center. Vernon can be that presence in center, and so can Torii.

"There are teams that have won championships with less than great play in left field. What he's going to do on the offensive end is important. Don't get me wrong -- he's going to do things in left field we haven't seen in a while, as far as his arm and range. He's going to be an asset out there."

It's his ability to play the total game that motivated the Angels to move Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera and import Wells with four years and $86 million remaining on his contract.

Critics who howled in disapproval when the deal was made seemed to overlook the fact that the Angels were getting a proven star along with that hefty salary.

Wells will hit fourth or fifth, most likely, after batting third and fourth throughout his career with the Blue Jays. His 162-game averages reflect consistent production: 39 doubles, 26 homers and 95 RBIs to go with his .280 batting average. He has had three seasons with at least 40 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs, having led the American League in hits, doubles and total bases in 2003.

"Vernon can play, bottom line," Hunter said. "He's shown that, over and over. The man can hit, run, field, throw, do it all. He's going to make us a better team. I'm excited. I want one of those [World Series championship] rings -- and this guy can help us get there."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.