I can’t control what others do. All I can do is be a good team player and try to be productive. —Eric Stamets
TEMPE, Arizona — Those in the know say if shortstop Erick Aybar leaves the Los Angeles Angels in 2016, Cuban phenom Roberto Baldoquin will be ready to replace him.
But those in the know may not know Eric Stamets.
Stamets, a 24-year-old defensive wizard from Dublin, Ohio, has the skills and determination to shake things up. And this summer, he hopes to start by shaking things up at shortstop for the Salt Lake Bees.
“I think Eric has started to understand the pro game and the things he needs to work on,” says Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “There’s no question he has major league skills defensively. But at this level, all the players have to be multi-dimensional.”
Indeed, wherever he has played — from the University of Evansville, where he was the Missouri Valley Conference's Defensive Player of the Year, to the minor leagues where he has won similar honors — Stamets has shined in the field. His woes have come with the bat. Last year, for Double-A Arkansas, he batted only .235.
But last October with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, he seemed to break through. He boosted his batting average more than 40 points. And this March at spring training, during his moments at the plate on the Big League side, he has looked, at times, like a young Cal Ripken Jr.
“I wasn’t having mechanical problems at bat,” Stamets explains. “It was more like a mindset. In the past I’d start pressing and get caught up in the numbers game. During fall league I worked with Greg Sparks of Oakland, and that helped. I learned to be more patient, more selective. I learned to let the situation dictate what I do.”
Only in the Arizona Fall League would Stamets have had a chance to work with Sparks, the minor league hitting coordinator for the A’s. The league format puts players together from several organizations, which allows them to get advice from coaches from other MLB teams.
Steve Cobb, director of the Fall League, likes the format. “At the professional level all the coaches are first-rate,” he says. “But sometimes a coach from another club will see something a little differently, pick up on something new, and he will be able to help.”
In 2013, C.J. Cron’s success in the Arizona Fall League, where he won the batting title, helped catapult him into the majors.
When asked about Baldoquin being hailed as Aybar’s heir apparent in Los Angeles, Stamets refuses to take the bait. His answer sounds scripted, but it’s an answer that coaches never tire of hearing.
“I can’t control what others do,” Stamets says. “All I can do is be a good team player and try to be productive.”
And he’s quickly becoming productive in the batter’s box.
In the bottom of the ninth inning of a spring training game against Texas, Stamets delivered a sharp single to left that moved the runner to third. The runner eventually scored the winning run. In all (at this writing) he is 3-for-7 this spring — a small sampling, sure, but an impressive one.
Now, Stamets is anxious to display what’s he learned for the Bees.
When asked if he’s ever been to Salt Lake City, the young infielder says no, but he’s heard good things.
Chances are, one of the good things people will hear in the future is what a fine ballplayer Eric Stamets has become.