Albert Pujols is no regular pupil for Angels’ batting coach
Mickey Hatcher still has his job with the Angels, much to the dismay of fans who call for his dismissal every time the offense slumps. And the hitting coach clearly still has his sense of humor.
Asked how he will handle Albert Pujols, the Hall-of-Fame-caliber slugger who signed a 10-year, $250-million deal with the Angels in December, Hatcher joked, “I’m definitely not going to try to confuse him — you’ve seen me do that already with [Vernon] Wells.”
Wells hit a career-low .218 with 66 runs batted in last season after being traded from Toronto to the Angels. If Pujols experiences as dramatic a drop-off, Hatcher haters may finally get their wish, but a tailspin of such proportion seems highly unlikely.
Though his numbers have declined in the last three years, Pujols, who turns 32 on January 16, is still among baseball’s most productive hitters.
In 11 years in St. Louis, Pujols hit .328 with a .420 on-base percentage, 445 home runs and 1,329 RBIs, and led the Cardinals to World Series championships in 2006 and 2011.
Last season was his least productive — he hit .299 with a .366 OBP, .541 slugging percentage, 37 homers and 99 RBIs — and he still would have led the Angels in those categories
All of which will make Hatcher, who hit .280 with 38 homers and 375 RBIs in 12 big league seasons, more pupil than teacher when he begins working with Pujols this spring.
“He knows himself more than anyone else, and like a lot of great hitters, his swing hasn’t changed much over the years,” said Hatcher, who is entering his 13th season with the Angels.
“I need to learn what his routine is, what his program is, how he prepares for a game. I have to be in tune with him. It’s not like I’m going to teach him or coach him. My job is to be there when he needs me.”
Hatcher is studying tapes of Pujols’ swing and said he may call the hitting coaches Pujols had in St. Louis, Mike Easler, Hal McRae and Mark McGwire. Mitchell Page, who coached Pujols from 2001 through 2004, died in March.
Hatcher has worked with at least one other star slugger who the Angels acquired in his prime, and he didn’t mess him up. Vladimir Guerrero hit .337 with 29 homers and 126 RBIs to win 2004 American League most-valuable-player honors and was the team’s top hitter for six years.
“I’ve never had a guy, no matter the caliber of player, who hasn’t trusted me, and that’s what I have to do in spring training — gain Albert’s trust,” Hatcher said. “I’ve been in this game, been a coach, for a long time, and you can’t be intimidated because a guy is a superstar. I’m excited about it.”
Pujols has developed a distinct pregame video, soft toss, batting cage and batting practice routine. The ball explodes off his bat, but his swing is quiet, free of excess movement. His set-up — the alignment of his head, hands, hips and feet — does not change.
Pujols could make Hatcher’s job a little easier when it comes to tutoring such younger players as Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos.
Want to know how a great hitter prepares for a game, how he develops a plan of attack against pitchers? Watch Pujols.
Plate discipline has been a Pujols strength, and Hatcher expects the slugger to provide a blueprint for Trumbo, who led the Angels with 29 homers and 87 RBIs as a rookie last season but had a poor .291 OBP, with 25 walks and 120 strikeouts.
“Don’t just talk to him, watch his routine, watch his batting practice, how he goes about getting ready for a game,” Hatcher said. “Those things help a hitting coach a lot. When you have guys who have been successful, they’re teaching tools for a hitting coach.”
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