Position previews: Shortstop

For generations now, the Gold Glove award for American League shortstops has been more of a coronation than a competition.

From 1993 to 2001, the Cleveland Indians' Omar Vizquel won it every year and, from 2004 to 2010, Derek Jeter won it five times. Finally last fall, Erick Aybar -- just as Orlando Cabrera had done four years earlier -- got enough attention from the league's managers and coaches to bring the trophy west.

Aybar became the third Angels shortstop to win a Gold Glove, joining Cabrera (2007) and Jim Fregosi (1967).

It was a fitting moment for a player who had dramatically changed the direction of his career, a U-turn equally dramatic on the infield as it was in the batter's box. Aybar's batting average improved by 26 points from 2010 to 2011; he scored two more runs and drove in 30 more; He stole 30 bases and hit twice as many home runs (10) as he ever had.

But the Angels felt Aybar's impact most when they were in the field. He cut down his errors from 21 to 13. He helped turn 51 double plays, nearly double his 2010 total (26). His range factor, assists and fielding percentage were all in the top four among major-league shortstops.

At 28, Aybar's in his prime and should help Angels pitchers continue to work their way confidently through lineups again in 2012. But does he merit the kind of contract extension Howie Kendrick recently signed (four years, $33.5 million) or even more, given his premium position? It might depend on who does the evaluating.

Aybar's speed and contact hitting fit well in Mike Scioscia'smotion offense and the coaches appreciate his solid glove work. On the other hand, Aybar's style wouldn't seem to mesh with a new direction signaled by general manager Jerry Dipototoward on-base percentage. Even while batting .279, Aybar finished 52nd in the AL in on-base percentage (.322) last year and was the second most-likely hitter in the league to fall behind 0-and-1 after Toronto's Colby Rasmus.

Aybar is a hacker by nature. When he tried to alter his approach after getting the leadoff spot entering 2010, it sent him into an offensive tailspin he never recovered from.

Aybar is a free agent after this season and Dipoto said it's unlikely a contract extension will be worked out before Opening Day, so his future will be among the pressing decisions as the season moves along. For now, the Angels can feel secure knowing they have one of the most solid shortstops in baseball backing up their pitchers.