One of the most interesting things about spring training, when story lines quickly dry up, is watching an organization's most promising young players try to impress the coaches. With all the focus on Albert Pujols this spring, some of these kids might get lost in the shuffle, at least where the media is concerned.
So, with Baseball's America's rankings not coming out until Monday, let's take a crack at our top five for the Angels:
1. Mike Trout, OF
Age: 20, ETA: 2012
Ideally, Trout would have taken off running with his first crack at the big leagues, but instead he batted .220. It was hardly enough to dim perceptions of his bright future, particularly since he was 19 when he got the call-up. He showed flashes of menace with his bat, played strong defense at a new position, left field, and still figures prominently in the Angels' immediate plans. If Vernon Wells struggles again, Trout could supplant him within a couple of months of Opening Day. He could team with Peter Bourjos to give the Angels one of the fastest, most dynamic outfields in the majors for years.
2. Jean Segura, SS
Age: 21, ETA: 2014
It seemed like a major statement when the Angels moved him to shortstop last year (does that mean they were pessimistic about re-signing Erick Aybar?), but you can’t read too much into it. If you can play shortstop, they figure, you can play anywhere. Segura’s problem has been staying healthy. Hamstring issues limited him to 44 games last year, but he bounced back and hit .310 in 87 at-bats at the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League. He has excellent speed, with 50 stolen bases two years ago, and he has the chance to hit for a high average. He has the arm to play shortstop and projects as a No. 2 or No. 9-type hitter, a la Aybar. Like Aybar, he’s not great at getting on base.
3. Garrett Richards, RHP
Age: 23, ETA: 2012
It was a bummer for Richards and for the Angels when he injured his groin in his second major-league start. A hard thrower who struggled mightily as a reliever at Oklahoma, Richards has gotten a handle on his control issues and figures to be a solid groundball pitcher in the major leagues. In fact, if Jerome Williams struggles, Richards could slide right into an Angels rotation that is otherwise stocked with veterans. The Angels drafted him despite shaky college numbers and he’s making former scouting director Eddie Bane look good.
4. C.J. Cron, 1b
Age: 22, ETA: 2014
Imagine how Cron must have felt when the Angels signed Pujols, creating a massive logjam at first base. With Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales to get past on the depth chart, Cron figures to be trade bait in coming seasons. He had two serious injuries near the end of his first pro season and needed surgery, but he’s got a dangerous, consistent bat and figures to play in the majors soon ... somewhere.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B
Age: 19, ETA: 2016
Relax, Angels fans. This guy doesn’t figure to get a look for the team’s everyday third base job this spring. Last year was his first pro season and, two years ago, he was at Cook County High in Georgia. The Angels committed to playing him in the field despite a mid-90s fastball in high school and it looks like he’ll stick there. He’s a good athlete and batted .283 with seven home runs, 12 doubles and 40 RBIs in the Pioneer League. He’s a switch hitter who plays good defense, so there’s a lot to like. He’s not a factor now, but he may make it less imperative that the Angels trade for a power-hitting young third baseman and move some of the guys listed above to do it.