TEMPE, Ariz. -- Most teams prefer that their major league players, especially those under long-term contracts, skip winter ball for fear of injury, but the Angels have always made an exception for shortstop Erick Aybar, who played about 20 games for Licey in his native Dominican Republic this off-season.
“I like to play in the Dominican, because I don’t want to be fat for the regular season,” said Aybar, who appeared to be in excellent shape for the Angels’ first full-squad workout Wednesday. “I want to run and get in shape so I’m ready for spring training.”
Aybar, a slick-fielding switch-hitter who is in the second year of a four-year, $35-million deal, was limited by the Angels to 10 games the previous off-season. But the team allowed him to expand his playing time this winter, as long as he did not participate in the Caribbean World Series.
Aybar, 30, is in his eighth full major league season and is coming off a 2013 season in which he hit .271 with six home runs, 33 doubles, 54 runs batted in and 68 runs.
“I like winter ball, and the Angels have historically let their guys play, whether it was Ervin Santana or Maicer Izturis or Aybar,” General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Erick wants to give back to Licey, and I think winter ball is good for him. He loves to play, he’s in great shape, and he feels like it will help him avoid a slow start.”
Manager Mike Scioscia said Raul Ibanez, the 41-year-old who was signed to be the team’s primary designated hitter, will work out this spring in left field, a position he played regularly for Seattle in 2013, and first base, a position he has played only five games at since 2005. “He’ll need that versatility if one of our guys has to DH for a week,” Scioscia said. “He hasn’t played first base for a while, but he played a lot there when he was young.” … Albert Pujols, who suffered a season-ending tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot in July, will be paced early in exhibition games “but when the season starts, the goal is to have him play first base on a regular basis,” Scioscia said. “He looks great. He’s moving great. He has a nice gait, and his legs look strong. He looks ready to go.” … Third baseman Luis Jimenez (Dominican Republic) and catcher Anderson De La Rosa (Venezuela) are having visa issues in their countries and have not yet reported to camp.