J.B. Shuck is the type of player the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim need. Whether he is the type of player the Houston Astros could use is another question. Eight months ago, the answer — in the opinion of the Astros’ front office — was no. They released the 26-year-old outfielder in November.
Houston’s sixth-round pick in 2008, Shuck has emerged as a valuable contributor in his new environs. A veritable no-name on a star-studded Angels’ roster, he is providing energy and solid OBP skills in a part-time role. Despite a recent 2 for 16 skid, the former Ohio State Buckeye is hitting .288/.341/.362.
Shuck was surprised the Astros let him go, and pleased the Angels came calling.
“It was a situation where I just didn’t fit in Houston,” said Shuck, who profiles as an undervalued asset. “When they brought in the new group, they talked a lot about sabermetics, and I thought that was kind of what I played towards. They simply wanted to go a different route. Sometimes that happens; sometimes things just don’t work out.
“As soon as I got released, Anaheim called and said, ‘Hey, we need a lefty off the bench and like how you play. We’re going to bring in a few guys, but we think you have a good shot at making our team.’ I jumped on that right away. It’s worked out. Being around guys like Hamilton and Pujols — even younger guys like Trout — you learn so much from them.”
One thing Shuck hasn’t had to learn is a patience approach. He logged a .382 OBP in five minor league seasons and — unlike some on his current team — consistently puts up a quality at bat.
“That’s always been part of my game,” said Shuck. “I’m always trying to get deep into counts. I don’t mind hitting with two strikes. If I can make the pitcher throw more pitches than normal, that’s only going to help our ball club. I try to have as many walks as I can. A walk gets you on base, and if you’re on base you have a chance to score.”
With limited power — the Westerville, Ohio native has seven home runs in just over 2,000 professional at bats — he can’t rely on the fear factor to draw his free passes.
“With a player like me, it’s a different kind of walk,” explained Shuck. “For a Pujols or a Hamilton, it’s usually them getting pitched around, because they’re afraid of their power. Guys like that can do a lot of damage with one swing. For me, it’s a matter of making sure they’re going to throw strikes. Like I said, I’m not afraid to hit with two strikes. If I can make him throw a strike and then nibble, maybe I can get into a situation where’s it’s 3-2. Then he’s most likely going to throw a heater, or maybe he’ll miss.”
Whether or not the Astros miss what Shuck brings to the table is open to debate. As for the Angels, they’re pleased with his contributions.
“You always want on-base skills throughout your lineup — guys setting the table for other guys,” said manager Mike Scioscia. “We have Mike Trout hitting either one or two, so for him to get RBI opportunities, we need to be able to feed into his group in the lineup. That’s where a guy like J.B. Shuck can be important to us. He can get on base and feed our lineup.”
Will Shuck get on base enough to become a long-term big-league regular? Chances are he won’t — especially on a team with top-flight talent — but that doesn’t mean he can’t provide value. He’s doing that in Anaheim, just as he would have in Houston.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.