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Angels' Vernon Wells has $21-million worth to prove

Wells, 34, has not lived up to his contract and will play behind starters Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Peter Bourjos unless his off-season work pays off.

February 15, 2013|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Vernon Wells hasn't put up good enough numbers to keep his starting role with the Angels, but the outfielder says he's come into spring training ready to compete.
Vernon Wells hasn't put up good enough numbers to keep his starting… (Chris Carlson / Associated…)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Vernon Wells is mild-mannered and not prone to fits of anger, but that can hide what sometimes stews inside.

The outfielder has been a major disappointment in Anaheim, where he had the lowest average (.218) of any big league regular in 2011 and hit .230 with 11 home runs and 29 runs batted in during an injury-plagued 2012.

Wells, 34, lost his starting job last May and will open 2013 as a reserve behind outfielders Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Peter Bourjos and designated hitter Mark Trumbo.

Wells has two more seasons — at $21 million a year — to show he's not one of baseball's biggest busts, but to do so he'll have to scrap and fight his way out of a corner.

Which is why Wells nodded knowingly when asked before Friday's first full-squad workout if he might benefit from coming to camp with a chip on his shoulder, with something to prove.

"I've prepared myself this off-season to compete," Wells said. "With that comes a lot of different thought processes, approaches, and that plays into it a little bit."

Wells is three years removed from a 2010 season in which he hit .273 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs for Toronto. After overhauling his swing last winter with no results,he spent much of this winter studying video, comparing his good and bat at-bats.

"It boiled down to the same thing — I was trying to catch balls out front and hit them as far as I could to left field and left-center as opposed to using the whole field," Wells said. "When I was successful, I used my hands and the bat speed took care of itself."

All winter, Wells focused on "keeping my hands inside the ball and hitting the middle and right side of the cage." While Hamilton crushed bombs over the right-field screen Friday, Wells hit most of his batting-practice pitches off the screen protecting the pitcher.

"I'm trying to get that swing back that I haven't had for a few years," Wells said, "the one I had before I started hitting home runs."

But even if Wells finds his stroke, it will take a slow start by Bourjos or an injury to an outfielder to earn regular playing time.

"He understands he has to be more productive," Manager Mike Scioscia said, "but there's always opportunity for a guy who's playing well to win more at-bats."

Beer here

The Angels did not ban beer from the clubhouse after 22-year-old pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in 2009, and they will not ban it after signing Hamilton, whose addiction to drugs and alcohol led to a three-year suspension from baseball.

Hamilton, who had two alcohol relapses in five years at Texas, did not ask the Angels to change their policy. About 20 of baseball's 30 teams ban alcohol from the clubhouse.

"We don't think it will be an issue," Manager Scioscia said. "Guys are all responsible."

The Angels do not allow hard liquor in the clubhouse. The Rangers allow beer, but when they clinched a division title or won a playoff series, they doused Hamilton with ginger ale.

Short hops

Albert Pujols, who had right knee surgery in October, is taking batting practice and grounders right at him but is not running yet. "This spring will be different from last year, when I was doing everything," Pujols said. "I'm kind of easing in. My goal is to be ready for opening day." ... Infielders Luis Rodriguez, who will contend for a utility job, and Luis Jimenez are having visa problems and have not reported to camp.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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