The Cleveland Indians added another outfielder to their mix on Friday when they acquired J.B. Shuck from the Los Angeles Angels for cash considerations. Shuck had been designated for assignment by the Angels on Tuesday to create space on their 40-man roster for September reinforcements.
For Shuck, it is a return home in many ways. The 27-year-old is a native of Westerville, Ohio, just outside of Columbus, and played his college ball at The Ohio State University.
Shuck had been touted for having a good eye and patience at the plate. He compiled a .382 on-base percentage in his time in the minor leagues over six seasons. His play in the field and his speed have made up for the little power supplied by his bat – he has just 16 home runs over the course of his professional career, including four at the Major League level.
Shuck was a victim of the numbers game in Los Angeles, where a crowded outfield and little room on the 40-man roster made the left-handed hitter expendable.
The Angels have former All-Star Josh Hamilton and his expensive contract patrolling left field. Mike Trout, a career .306 hitter, the 2014 All-Star Game MVP, and a two-time runner up for the AL MVP Award, received a substantial increase in pay before the season and has claimed center field for his own.
That left only right field available for a guy like Shuck, who capitalized on playing opportunities in 2013 created by the injury to Peter Bourjos, who was traded by the Angels to the St. Louis Cardinals last November.
Shuck started 2013 on the Angels bench and was used sparingly over the first month of the season, appearing in just eleven games before an injury to Bourjos sent the outfielder to the disabled list. The loss of Bourjos paved the way for Shuck to become the starting left fielder, something he had done just one time that season prior. When Bourjos returned in mid-June, Shuck stayed with the club on the bench after hitting .278 with 13 RBI, 12 strikeouts, and eight walks in 45 games.
Back in a bench role, he hit .389 for the club in a dozen games before Bourjos broke his right wrist and landed back on the disabled list, throwing Shuck back into the lineup on a regular basis. He would start 87 games in left for the Angels that season.
He hit .293 with a .331 OBP in 129 games for the Angels in 2013, finishing fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in his second year of action in the Majors. He had 128 hits on the season, including 20 doubles, three triples, and a pair of home runs, while driving in 39 runs. He was 8-for-12 in stolen base attempts and had six sacrifice hits to go with seven sacrifice flies. He spent the bulk of his time in left field, where he made two errors in 97 games while posting a .988 fielding percentage. Following the season, he was named the Angels’ winner of the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award.
After the trade of Bourjos and Mark Trumbo, Shuck was thought to be a player for an outfield spot or a bench spot with the club going into 2014. But the emergence of Kole Calhoun in 2013 and the presence of Collin Cowgill paved the way for Shuck to be optioned to the minors as part of the Angels’ final roster moves at the end of Spring Training, as the Angels looked for right-handed hitting off of the bench to supplement their two left-handed hitting starting outfielders in Hamilton and Calhoun.
Shuck would not stay long at Triple-A Salt Lake City, as an early season thumb injury to Hamilton created a bench role. Unlike the previous season, he did not take advantage of playing time, hitting just .173 over his first 19 games (18 starts) in the lineup in left field.
Even with Hamilton and Calhoun on the 15-day disabled list, and despite hits in three straight games (including two against the Indians in Anaheim), Shuck was demoted at the beginning of May. He stayed in the minors until late July, when injuries to Cowgill and Grant Green created a roster hole, but he was optioned out a few days later as Cowgill began a rehab assignment.
In the minors, Shuck shined. He had hits in 17 of his first 19 games after being sent down in May, hitting .407 with 27 singles, six doubles, and 12 RBI. He added a ten-game hitting streak that started at the end of the month. He concluded his minor league season with hits in 12 of 13 games, batting .373 to end the minor league season strong.
He put up his best numbers at any level in his career at Triple-A this season, batting .320 with a .382 OBP. In 102 games, he had 130 hits, including 18 doubles, nine triples, and five home runs, to go along with a career-high 57 RBI. He drew 43 walks versus just 30 strikeouts and had 13 sacrifices.
In the field for Salt Lake, he split time at all three outfield spots. He appeared in 27 games in left field with a .980 fielding percentage, 28 games in right field with a .983 percentage, and 35 games in center field with a.988 mark.
Shuck spent his first six professional seasons in Houston after being selected by the club in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He spent parts of his final three seasons with the Astros at the Triple-A level. He made a brief Major League debut for them in 2011, hitting .272 in 37 games. He was granted free agency following the 2012 season and signed nine days later in Anaheim.
Shuck was thought to not be versatile enough for the Halos bench, leading to his demotion at the start of the season. He has spent the majority of his MLB career in left field, a spot locked down at the moment by Michael Brantley. He has played 150 games in the outfield, with 124 appearances in left. He has appeared in 27 games in right field and nine games in center.
He does not hit for power, but has been able to hit for average throughout his professional career with a steady on-base percentage. While his .167 batting average at the MLB level is discouraging, it may have been more a reflection of a slow start and a lack of playing time to get his bat back on track. Once in the minors, he put together several lengthy hitting streaks and was consistent for the Bees.
The contract of Shuck is controlled by the Indians through 2018 and he is still a year away from arbitration. The former Buckeye is a gritty, all-out kind of player that Cleveland fans have been known to appreciate, except in circumstances like this one when he robbed Mike Aviles in a game earlier this season. How much of an opportunity he gets to flash the glove and contribute at the plate this season and in the years to come remains to be seen.
Photo: Andy Marlin/Getty Images