PEORIA, Ariz. – Casper Wells arrived in Seattle at the trading deadline last summer and for two weeks was so good no one considered it an accurate read on his talent.
Almost no one.
Wells, a 27-year-old outfielder obtained in the Doug Fister trade with Detroit, batted .333 with six home runs and 14 RBI in his first 15 games with the Mariners – and thinks that’s the foundation upon which expectations for him should be constructed.
“What do I expect of myself? You saw what I’m capable of last season when I’m healthy, and I’m 100 percent healthy again now,” Wells said.
A right-handed hitter, Wells homered in four consecutive games with Seattle, proving Safeco Field certainly didn’t bother his swing. Then Wells battled “vertigo-like symptoms” during a 3-for-45 slump.
Waves of tests couldn’t isolate the issue, and Wells didn’t play the final two weeks of 2011. When the season ended, neither he nor the team knew what was causing his problem – he just knew he couldn’t follow a pitch en route to the plate.
“At the end of the year we still weren’t sure what was wrong with me, but I knew it wasn’t my eyes,” Wells said. “I’m pretty body-aware, and I thought it had something to do with my neck.
“It was my neck, something was pressing against a nerve. They fixed it.”
Wells didn’t even wait for that before getting to work. An earnest positive thinker, his workouts began before he could see straight.
“The day the 2011 season ended, I started preparing for the 2012 season, mentally, physically, emotionally,” he said. “I worked on first-step quickness, did a lot of strength and conditioning – I want to play through a 162-game season.
“What I wanted to do was put myself in prime condition to compete. My diet, my workouts, my approach. My apartment is full of sticky notes with things that inspire me.”
“Don’t think too much. Champions think one third less than most people,” Wells said.
Yes, he actually talks like that.
Wells worked his way through the Detroit farm system for six years before getting an opportunity to play in the majors. A superb defensive outfielder, he was given 93 at-bats in 2010.
Wells batted .323 with four home runs and 17 RBI.
That may pale compared to his personal expectations.
“I have my own goals, and I keep them to myself. Most people wouldn’t think they’re realistic, but they far surpass making the team,” Wells said.
“My approach coming in is that I’m the starting left fielder for this team. That’s what I want, that’s what I expect of myself. I’ve always looked at it that way. I think that every day.”
How realistic Wells is remains to be seen.
Left field isn’t promised to anyone, but Mariners manager Eric Wedge has said left-handed hitting Mike Carp is the front-runner given his performance late last season.
A fourth outfielder might get at-bats filling in for teammates in left, center and right field, but Wells doesn’t think in those terms. He spent the offseason working toward one goal – playing regularly.
At best, Wells faces a challenge. There’s Carp, newcomer Darren Ford, Michael Saunders, Trayvon Robinson …
Wells wishes them all the best.
“I believe you only compete with yourself,” Wells said. “The other guys in here? They’re my teammates. I’d never root against them.’
For now, he goes about the business of preparing for a season. Wells has the best outfield arm on the team – yes, even stronger than Ichiro Suzuki’s – and good range at all three outfield spots.
What he may need to do to win a job is hit all spring the way he did those first few weeks in Seattle.
No one expects that, unless you count Wells.