General Manager Jerry Dipoto has been heavily criticized for his winter pitching moves that didn't pan out, Ryan Madson, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Sean Burnett providing little or no contributions to the Angels this season.
But at least one under-the-radar acquisition, the signing of J.B. Shuck to a minor league deal last November, has paid huge dividends, the outfielder emerging as a legitimate American League rookie-of-the-year candidate with a solid all-around season that few saw coming in April.
"At the beginning of the season, he would have been an unlikely pick for rookie of the year," Manager Mike Scioscia said before Tuesday night's 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in Angel Stadium. "But seeing him every day, he just does so many things to help us."
Shuck, released by Houston after five years — and 37 big league games — in the Astros' organization, earned a bench job by hitting .358 in spring training.
But an injury to Peter Bourjos thrust Shuck, 25, into a full-time role April 30, and Shuck has remained there ever since, rotating through the corner outfield and designated hitter spots and taking over as leadoff hitter June 30.
The speedy Shuck leads AL rookies in hits (108), doubles (17), runs (50) and total bases (137), he ranks second in average (.297) and triples (three) and third in runs batted in (37) and outfield assists (six). He is hitting .305 with runners in scoring position.
"I always felt like I could compete here," Shuck said. "I changed a few things this winter with my swing to where I can put together better at-bats. Being up here, getting a good amount of at-bats, that helped my confidence build."
So much so that the Angels' public relations department, for the first time this season, issued a J.B. Shuck rookie-of-the-year update to the media Tuesday.
"I don't really know who's in the running or where I stand, and I don't really get into it," Shuck said. "But it's an honor to be mentioned."
One advantage for Shuck might be the spectacular catch he made Aug. 2, when he leaped into the left-field seats in Anaheim to rob Toronto's Jose Bautista of a two-run homer, a web gem that is sure to stick in the minds of voters.
"When I see the replay, it kind of makes me laugh," Shuck said. "My favorite part is watching the reaction of the guys. They show the bench going berserk, they show Kole Calhoun in right field going berserk. That's a great feeling, to know all these guys are rooting for you."
Outfielder Josh Hamilton, slowed last weekend by a sore shoulder and migraines, sat out Tuesday's game because of a sinus infection but hopes to play Wednesday. … Desmond Jennings (third inning) and Yunel Escobar (sixth) hit solo home runs, and Ben Zobrist hit a two-out, two-run double in the fourth to help the Rays snap a five-game losing streak Tuesday night. Matt Moore (15-3) gave up one unearned run and four hits in 51/3 innings for the win. Jason Vargas (8-6) took the loss, giving up five runs and 10 hits in four innings.