Wells provides veteran presence in diminished role
Reserve outfielder continues to work hard, ready to seize his opportunity
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Vernon Wells has grown up in the game of baseball, going from one of the youngest players in the league to a steady veteran voice in the Angels' clubhouse.
There was a time -- and it wasn't all that long ago -- that Wells could count on sage counsel from disparate voices like Carlos Delgado and Tony Fernandez. Now, at the advanced baseball age of 34, Wells knows what it means to be giving out advice instead of taking it.
"I've been used to it for a while," Wells said Friday. "The thing is that mentally, you're still the same as you always have been. Especially while you're in the middle of it. For the time you spend at the ballpark, you feel like all the ages are the same. I guess it starts to feel different when you're done."
Wells, the fifth overall pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft, was the second-youngest player in the Majors when he made his debut in 1999. And a year later, when he played three games as a September callup, he was the sixth-youngest. But that was a baseball generation ago.
Teammate Mike Trout, for instance, was just 8 years old when Wells got started. Wells tries not to think about things like that, and coming off a pair of disappointing seasons for Los Angeles, he said he's excited for the chance to rebound and to prove that he can still play at a high level.
Wells, a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, is batting .385 with two home runs through his first six Spring Training games. And though his playing time is uncertain for the season ahead, Wells knows that that you can learn as much from adversity as you can success.
"It's difficult when you're in it, but I think you learn so much from failure in this game," said Wells, who batted .230 last year. "It's just another educational process that you go through, whether you're 23 or 33 when you go through it. I think it's important to remember everything that went on during that process so you can relay it to the younger guys. They'll eventually end up going through those things, too."
Wells, for the time being, is positioned as the Angels' fourth outfielder, as Los Angeles is planning on playing Peter Bourjos, Trout and Josh Hamilton ahead of him. But that alignment can change in a heartbeat or a hot streak, and Wells worked hard this winter to be ready for his opportunity.
"I just kind of got back to the basics. From a swing standpoint, I tried to get back to what I was doing when I was younger and just put the barrel on the ball," Wells said. "So far, so good here in Spring Training. It's just a matter of being consistent with your approach and not changing.
"When you go through struggles, the byproduct of that is making changes. And when you're continuously making changes, you can't get consistent with one approach. It's just a matter of sticking with what I'm doing right now through thick and thin and making sure that I stay on top of it."
Wells, a career .273 hitter with 259 home runs, was named the Branch Rickey Award winner in 2010 in recognition for his work in the community, and he's been the same type of person in the clubhouse. Manager Mike Scioscia said Friday that Wells hasn't made waves about his diminished role.
"He's been very accountable for his performance," said Scioscia. "He understands it. He wants a chance to win at-bats and he certainly can win at-bats. He understands and he's been fine."
Wells has played in 1,601 games without going to the postseason, and he knows his best chance may be coming late in his career, which he has said would end after the 2014 season. And if he's nostalgic, it rarely shows. When asked if his precocious teammate Trout reminds him of a younger version of himself, Wells is humble and direct.
"I don't know if there's anybody who can compare to what he was able to accomplish last year," Wells said. "There are guys that maybe had success in one aspect of what he can do, but I don't think there's been anybody who can do everything on a baseball field he's able to do at the age of 20."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.