ANAHEIM —In what 15-year Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia admitted was one of the most difficult decisions he’s made while serving in that capacity, J.B. Shuck has been sent to the club’s Class AAA minor league affiliation in Salt Lake City.
“That’s about as tough as it gets,” Scioscia is quoted saying to a reporter in a story published on the Angels’ website of informing J.B. he would start the season in the Minor Leagues, with Collin Cowgill making the team as the backup outfielder. “J.B. had a terrific season for us last year, had a great spring training. But if you look at the balance of our team and our bench, J.B. was not going to be getting many at-bats without someone going down right now. And if someone goes down, he’ll have the ability to come back up and play. That’s where we are right now.”
Left-handed-hitting infielder Ian Stewart and the right-handed Cowgill, plus catcher Hank Conger and utility infielder John McDonald, currently comprise the bench for the Angels.
Sent to SLC were J.B., outfielders Brennan Boesch and Matt Long, infielder Grant Green, catcher Luis Martinez, plus pitchers Jose Alvarez. Brandon Lyon and Cory Rasmus.
J.B. — a 2005 Galion High School graduate who signed as a free agent, non-roster invitee with the Angels toward the end of 2012 — came out of nowhere to win a job off the Angels’ bench a year ago. He went on to have a strong rookie season, hitting .293, leading American League rookies in plate appearances, and finishing fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. In addition, he earned national attention last August with one of the greatest catches in the organization’s history, falling into the stands in left field to rob Toronto’s Jose Bautista of a home run.
This year, after a slow start in which he had just 4 hits in his first 23 official at-bats, J.B. turned it on the last 2-plus weeks of spring training, connecting for 12 hits in his final 34 at-bats — including 4 triples. He finished spring training tied for the Major League lead with 5 triples while hitting at a .281 clip. In addition, he was 4-for-4 in stolen bases attempts, scored 9 runs, drove in 7, belted a double, made an outstanding diving catch in left field, and threw a dart to home plate to nail a baserunner.
But, when the Angels traded the oft-injured outfielder Pete Bourjos to St. Louis over the winter, it was Kole Calhoun who claimed the regular job in right field, and it was Cowgill who won a job off the bench.Bourjos being injured much of last season opened the gate for J.B. to receive so much playing time and showing what he could do.
“Collin (Cowgill) has a couple things that gave him the edge over J.B. right now as we start the season,” Scioscia said. “One, you talk about the right-handed bat, that’s an absolute. I think the other is his versatility in the outfield, being able to play left field and right field is important in a number of areas. Being able to play right field will allow Kole Calhoun the freedom to play first base at any time. It adds depth in many other positions. J.B. was more limited to left field.”