ANAHEIM -- In less than nine months, J.B. Shuck has gone from being cut from a last-place team to being a legit American League Rookie of the Year candidate.
Yes, Red Sox infielder Jose Iglesias is looking like a favorite among position players for the award -- with a .351 batting average and a .399 on-base percentage in 56 games -- but Shuck has quietly put himself in the conversation, batting .291 with a .335 on-base percentage.
"I don't think about that," said Shuck, who has maintained rookie status despite playing in 37 Major League games in 2011. "I guess the most important thing for me is to try to get wins. I'd much rather get to the playoffs, go to the World Series than just try to think about winning individual awards."
Last fall, not even the Astros -- 32 games below .500 and with a Major League-worst .337 winning percentage -- felt Shuck was good enough to play for them. General manager Jeff Luhnow called Shuck on Nov. 3 to inform him he had been released, and shortly after that, Jerry Dipoto swooped him up on a Minor League contract.
Shuck -- a left-handed, slap-hitting speedster with little pop and plenty of grit -- went to Spring Training, battled with four others for the fifth outfield spot, won a job and has made the most of his opportunity while Peter Bourjos has been limited to 40 games. He ranks first among AL rookies in doubles (13) and second in hits (62), is batting .364 with runners on base and has somehow batted .365 against lefties.
Yes, he's prone to the occasional head-scratching error in left field -- but he's been more than the Angels could've ever imagined.
"I wasn't surprised by Shuck's success," Astros first baseman and good friend Brett Wallace said. "He's a hard worker, he plays the game really hard and we're all really happy for him that he's doing well. We're excited that he got that opportunity. Shuck did everything he could; he worked really hard. He's a great teammate, a great guy in the clubhouse and he hustled on the field. You love seeing guys like that take those opportunities and take full advantage of them."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. William Boor is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.