The 37 lockers inside Angel Stadium’s home clubhouse are almost uniformly unadorned. Players do not bother with them, except for Jett Bandy, the rookie catcher who has made his a shrine to his teammates since his May promotion.
“You know how when you have a desk at an office, you put pictures of all your friends and family up there?” Bandy said. “When I started, I was like, ‘Oh, I should put all my buddies up there.’ ”
And so a teenage Mike Scioscia is represented via his double-A baseball card, as is former teammate Tim Lincecum as a San Francisco Giant, and most every 2016 Angel. There are more than 20 in all, and they take up most of the available space.
“It’s like a nice little collage,” Bandy said.
Bandy, 26, is the quirkiest Angel, and one easy to envision as a future franchise leader. With triple-A Salt Lake, he’d bring a referee shirt to the stadium and impersonate umpires for his teammates’ enjoyment. As an Angel, he conducts pregame pop quizzes about the opposing lineup, shouting across the clubhouse to see if anyone can name the No. 8 hitter and what position he’ll play.
He is also proving that he belongs in the majors. Through 48 games, he has hit .279, with a .325 on-base percentage and .490 slugging clip, together 19% better than the league average, according to an advanced metric compiled by fangraphs.com. Perhaps most auspiciously, he has struck out in fewer than 14% of his plate appearances despite his 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame.
The Dodgers’ 41st-round pick out of Thousand Oaks High in 2008 and the Angels’ 31st-round selection from the University of Arizona three years later, Bandy was considered organizational fodder, not a future big leaguer.
But he starred in rookie ball in his first professional stint, so the Angels brought him to big league camp the following spring to catch some bullpen sessions. He said he learned then from veterans how hard he’d have to work. Over the next three minor league seasons, though, he found himself focusing too much on the work and not enough on the fun, he said. He’d think about bad at-bats all night, and stopped acting the way he always had.
That forcibly changed when the Angels sent him to the Dominican Republic to gather additional at-bats in the fall of 2014.
“I’d played so much baseball, I really didn’t have the energy to get mad anymore,” Bandy said. “That mentality, I think, carried over to the triple-A season. I wasn’t getting as frustrated when I got out. I learned how to accept failure. I started to have fun again.”
He impressed in triple A last season and earned a September call-up, then opened 2016 as the Angels’ third catcher. When Geovany Soto went on the disabled list in May, he came up, and he has stuck since, now crouching atop the Angels’ depth chart.
“Jett has made such great strides in probably the last three years from where he’s been in our organization,” Manager Scioscia said. “He worked his way onto our depth chart when he came up last year. I think he’s starting to understand game plans better, and the type of player he can be.”
Scioscia can be credited. In a recent interview on the Angels’ radio affiliate, host Roger Lodge asked Bandy if Scioscia had time to work with him “every once in a while”.
“Sometimes,” Bandy said, “I feel like the only time he has is to work with me on my position.”
Logan White, the Dodgers’ longtime scouting director, drafted Bandy thinking he’d eventually outgrow catching and convert to pitching, as the Dodgers would soon successfully attempt with Kenley Jansen. White had watched Bandy just once, at a predraft Dodger Stadium workout where he caught and then threw what he described as the best bullpen session of his life, reaching 92 mph. The Dodgers made him a modest offer; he turned them down.
“The one thing I remember about him now, the little bit I was around him, was really good makeup,” White said in a recent phone interview. “He was one of those guys that you have a feeling about. And, quite honestly, I probably should have never forgot it.”
On an Angels roster that has gotten progressively younger since the season’s start, Bandy’s voice has already emerged.
“You need your catcher to be a leader and he is a leader,” said injured closer Huston Street. “Mike Trout will always be the ringleader here, but you need guys who will provide healthy anecdotes and can take over for a moment. Bandy is that.”
Bandy’s teammates marvel at his ability to “keep up the same goofy energy every day, regardless of how the games are going,” as outfielder Nick Buss said.
“I just come to the field with a smile on my face every day, and I try to make other people smile, really,” Bandy said. “It’s smiles and it’s laughs and it’s all fun.”