A scout's view of Vernon Wells
Angels left fielder Vernon Wells is hitting at a level that is a shadow of his former self, and his performance over the weekend against his former team was indicative.
Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Brett Cecil on Saturday offered a good opportunity for Wells to regain his confidence. Cecil is a garden variety strike-thrower with pedestrian velocity -- exactly the kind of pitcher the Angels are paying Wells to pulverize.
Wells drew a walk in his first at-bat, Cecil pitching around him. In Wells' second at-bat, Cecil -– a nibbler who by then had thrown 47 pitches and whose 86 mph to 90 mph fastball cuts and sinks but is hardly imposing -- threw an 87 mph fastball that Wells fouled straight back.
Near-misses of such pitches are signs of one of two things: bad timing or diminished bat speed. Sometimes both. An honest scout must conclude that Wells presently lacks the loose explosiveness that characterizes the swing of a top hitter.
Wells’ swing still flashed enough bat speed to make him at least sporadically dangerous, but it’s hard to imagine him as a middle of the order difference-maker anymore. We should be seeing more hard contact by now –- a line drive at somebody, a warning-track fly ball -– and not a succession of ground balls, pop-ups and balls going to right field that he used to regularly pull to left with authority.
The third time around against Cecil, a scout has to ask if he’s going to see hard contact at all from Wells, especially considering that other hitters in the order -- Torii Hunter, for example -– showed they could handle the sink and the cut. Wells grounded out to third on an 81 mph change-up, a sign that he isn’t trusting his hands, isn’t letting pitches get to him -- or perhaps isn’t sure why his hands aren’t letting him do what they used to.
In his fourth at-bat, Wells grounded out to third against a 91 mph fastball, and ran 4.41 seconds to first base -- a small notch below average for a right-handed hitter. That’s not 30-stolen-bases speed anymore, but enough to get you from first to third or second to home.
On the bright side, Wells threw a runner out at the plate from normal depth in left field, so he still has an average major league throwing arm -- which is a nice thing to have in left field, where the arms are usually below average. Take the good news where you can get it.
Angels fans can hope the early returns from Wells don’t mean that he’s the second coming of Steve Finley -– a veteran outfielder who never hit until Manager Mike Scioscia had no choice but to bench him.
Based on this look, part of a 1-for-13 weekend against the Blue Jays that dropped Wells’ average to .100 -- his only hit was an opposite-field single to right -- the Angels have every right to be concerned.
-- John Klima
John Klima is a product of the Major League Baseball Scout Development Program and the founder of www.baseballbeginnings.com. Catch his scouting take every Monday on latimes.com.
Photo: Vernon Wells reacts after being struck out by Toronto pitcher Kyle Drabek on Friday. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press