Angels' infield has plenty of promise now and in future

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Rancho Cucamonga is a mere 36 miles from Angels Stadium. According to Mapquest, following old Route 66 to Interstate 10 to the Katella Avenue exit will take you about 40 minutes. Of course, it takes a little longer to reach the major leagues even if you hit 43 home runs in a season and are considered the best prospect in the organization. Especially if you take a detour along the way from shortstop to third base.

But Brandon Wood has certainly opened eyes in the Angels' camp this spring, making it clear he'll eventually be playing in Angels Stadium instead of merely rooting from the stands as he occasionally did while at Class A Rancho Cucamonga two years ago.

"I remember being at the game and thinking, 'That's where I want to be. I don't want to drive back to Rancho Cucamonga,'" Wood said. "It just gives you that much more motivation to get to this level."

Wood is just one of several promising young players in the Angels' infield this spring. Casey Kotchman, 24, likely will open the season at first base after playing 114 games for the Angels over the past three seasons. Howie Kendrick, 23, will be at second base while shortstop Erick Aybar, 23, could make the team as well, albeit at a different position. With some uncertainty still surrounding Gary Matthews Jr., the Angels have been working out Aybar in center field to increase their options.

"If there's a role for [Erick] on the team, then he'll be on the team. That versatility will help him,'' manager Mike Scioscia said. "At the plate, he's ready for the challenge. As a shortstop, he's ready for the challenge. He's still learning in center. He has the talent set to be a starting center fielder. He reads the ball off the bat very well. I don't think it's that much of a jump compared to going from the outfield to shortstop.''

Orlando Cabrera is set at shortstop for the Angels this season, prompting Aybar's center field experiment and Wood's shift from shortstop to third base this spring. The Angels already have Chone Figgins at third base, so despite a solid spring, Wood likely will open the season at Triple-A Salt Lake City to gain experience at the position.

"He's doing well,'' Scioscia said. "He's got a big bat and we think he has a chance to be a good shortstop. And we also think he has a chance to be a terrific third baseman. We're going to take a look at him at third and that doesn't rule out moving him back to shortstop.''

"The ground balls aren't that much of an adjustment,'' Wood said. "It's knowing where to be, where to position myself on guys, knowing the bunt plays.''

Figgins knows all too well about the adjustments Wood and Aybar need to make -- he's played every position except pitcher and catcher over the past couple of seasons.

"It's tough,'' Figgins said. "It's not something that comes naturally. Balls come at you differently [at third base], the angles off the bat are different, you move your feet differently. Your feet automatically do things at a position but when you jump from position to position, all that changes.''

But not everyone is switching -- Kotchman and Kendrick are at familiar positions.

Kotchman's father, Tom, was a scout and minor league manager in the Angels system. When the elder Kotchman managed at Class A Boise, Casey was the batboy, handing bats to players such as Garret Anderson. Now he's greeting Anderson on his way to the plate.

"It was a unique situation to be on the field to begin with,'' Kotchman said. "I always just enjoyed being at the field. The smell of the grass. The clay. The pine tar.''

Kendrick played some first base last season, but he'll be at his natural second base all this year.

"I went through the minors as a second baseman and I feel comfortable there,'' Kendrick said. "It's all about making the adjustments and adapting. But I'm just happy to come play baseball wherever it is and take satisfaction that whatever happens I played hard and gave it my best.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans" is on sale now.