Wells excited to get into swing of things

Wells excited to get into swing of things

Wells excited to get into swing of things
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."