Angels look to youth

The Angels will rely on contributions from homegrown young players like never before in this new era of perennial contention.

First baseman Casey Kotchman, third baseman Dallas McPherson and catcher Jeff Mathis are practically guaranteed roles this season. Kendry Morales and pitcher Jeff Weaver will compete for them this spring.

McPherson's rookie season was a wash, struggling early and getting hurt late. The Angels grew weary of his injuries and decided this offseason to shift Darin Erstad to center field and Chone Figgins to third - Kotchman assumes the role at first base after hitting seven homers and knocking in 22 in 47 games last year. That leaves McPherson without a position. Then again, having to fight for a job could alleviate some of the pressure of expectations and allow McPherson's natural power to blossom. The punchless Angels sorely need it.

"He was approaching it as if he was going out to win a job, as he is this year," manager Mike Sciosia said. "I think that speaks volumes to his makeup.

"I reinforced to Dallas the importance of him to get healthy, and secondly to get into his game as early as he can in the spring so he can to give himself a chance to win a spot."

Mathis is the heir apparent after Bengie Molina was allowed to move on in free agency.

Behind those near-ready players is another line of prospects that could guarantee the Angels have a solid foundation for the next 10 years or so: The "Big Four" are shortstops Brandon Wood and Erick Aybar and second basemen Howard Kendrick and Alberto Callaspo.

It's a strategy that could put some heat on Stoneman. Angels fans have quickly grown accustomed to winning -- and to watching star-quality, recognizable talent. The Angels have had a nearly silent winter, largely because Stoneman believes strongly in this crop of young players.

It's risky, but it could be satisfying -- and cheap -- if it pans out.

"We have some guys that can not only make you good, but keep you good for a long time," Stoneman said.

Once Stoneman failed in his bid to land slugger Paul Konerko, who took an identical five-year, $60 million offer to stay with the Chicago White Sox, he decided to hoard his young talent. That's not the typical pattern of a team with World Series aspirations and money to spend.

"It's neat that he didn't just go and get the next best guy. We really believe in these guys," Bane said. "A lot of times you'll read Baseball America and see teams bragging about all the players they've got, then they go and get somebody else to fill the spot. Over here, it's not that way."

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