Elevating his game first on Aybar's list
Confident infielder ready to emerge with breakout season
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Erick Aybar doesn't walk around the clubhouse, he struts.
The Angels infielder moves with his head held high, his shoulders square and some pep in his step.
Aybar was asked in Spanish why he's feeling so confident these days. The infielder paused for a second, smiled and responded in English.
"I'm feeling comfortable," he said.
He sure is.
Coming off a breakout campaign in 2009, Aybar, 26, is poised to make 2010 the best season of his career. He's happy, he's healthy and the shortstop is determined to make his fifth big league season one to remember.
"When you get the opportunity to play, you get the confidence and you feel good," he said. "There are not a lot of things to distract you when you play a lot. You can just concentrate on working hard and playing the game."
Last season, Aybar hit .312 with 23 doubles and nine triples in a career-high 137 games for the Angels. The switch-hitter also stole 14 bases, walked 30 times and hit .328 in the second half of the season.
He'll get a chance to improve on those numbers this season. Utility infielder Maicer Izturis, who has split time with Aybar at shortstop in the past, is battling for the starting spot at third base.
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"Erick is a guy that has waited for his chance to play every day, and he got it last year and played at an extraordinary level," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Going back to when he first signed, his progress has been like night and day, but I think in the last three years, I really think he has been comfortable. He can play a special kind of defense and he's evolved as a hitter, he's feeling comfortable in the batter's box and taking pitches."
For his career, Aybar has a .285 batting average in 348 games with the Angels since 2006. His goal is to be at least a .300 hitter every year. He also wants to win a Gold Glove.
"The thing is not just to get here, it's to stay here," Aybar said. "I think once you are here you have to work even harder because of the competition. If you make it to the Major Leagues and you stop working, what's the value in that? I am here, but there is more that I want to do."
Aybar's plan seems to be working. On defense, he made 11 errors in 2009, down from 18 the previous season. He admits he is not as careless on defense as he once was but says his style has made him a good player up to this point, so he'll always have some flash in his game.
Yes, he says, there is room for improvement. He takes extra fielding practice and batting practice because he said "that's what you have to do."
"We are working for that first Gold Glove," Aybar said. "Everybody that plays defense wants a Gold Glove. I worked a lot on my defense in the Dominican. I've worked moving to my left, right, back and front. I'm feeling good about my defense right now."
On offense, Aybar is candidate to lead off the batting order this year despite an ordinary .353 on-base-percentage last season. He'll also be expected to help fill the offensive hole created when Chone Figgins left for the Seattle.
Given that tall order, Aybar said he'll draw on the lessons he learned during the past four years.
"Vladimir [Guerrero], Bobby [Abreu] and Figgins taught me a lot and I'm going to share what I know like they did with me," he said. "It doesn't matter if you are Dominican, Venezuelan or American, we are all on the same team, so you have to help people feel comfortable."
Aybar should know. He's a strutting example.
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.