The career paths of Angels infielders Taylor Featherston, 25, and Kyle Kubitza, 24, have been almost identical.
Both were drafted out of college in 2011 and advanced to double A in 2014, and both are in big league camp for the first time. Their statistics through four minor league seasons: Featherston has a .276 average and 43 homers; Kubitza is a .271 hitter with 30 homers.
The biggest difference? Kubitza, acquired from Atlanta in January with an eye toward replacing third baseman David Freese in 2016, has no chance of making the Angels this spring, while Featherston has an excellent chance as a utility infielder.
That's because Featherston was a Rule 5 pick out of Colorado's system this winter, so the Angels must carry him on their 25-man major league roster all season or risk losing him. To send Featherston to the minor leagues, they would have to offer him back to the Rockies and then pass him through waivers, where 28 teams could claim him.
General Manager Jerry Dipoto is sure another team would grab Featherston, and he does not want that to happen.
"We like the player," Dipoto said. "We like his fit for the present and future."
Featherston is a longshot to win the second-base job that Grant Green, Josh Rutledge and Johnny Giavotella are competing for, but with his strong arm, speed, power and ability to play shortstop, he's a solid utility candidate. And the Rule 5 procedures don't hurt.
"No question, we view him differently," Dipoto said. "Most guys who have never played above double A come to camp with a chance to show somebody what they can do with the greater likelihood they'll start in the minor leagues. Taylor comes in as a legitimate contender for a major league opportunity."
Featherston played shortstop at Texas Christian but moved to second base in the minor leagues. To win the utility job, he'll need to be proficient at shortstop and third base, a position where he has little experience but played in Tuesday's 5-4 exhibition win over the Texas Rangers at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
"Whoever's in that mix will have to have that left-side versatility, or it's going to be tough for us," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We don't have guys with a lot of big league experience there."
Featherston plans to make up for his lack of experience with effort.
"I want to stay polished at all three positions so that when the time comes, I'll be prepared for anything," Featherston said. "If I'm not, that's on me."
Featherston knows his Rule 5 status gives him a slight advantage, but he's not relying on it.
"All you can do is try to force someone's hand as a player, force someone to make a decision, good or bad," Featherston said. "It's strictly business. The Rockies made a decision to leave me off the 40-man roster, I became available, and the next thing you know, here I am."
Jake Locker's retirement from the NFL on Tuesday sparked speculation that he would resume his baseball career with the Angels, who retain Locker's rights through August after paying the former two-sport star a $300,000 signing bonus in 2009.
But Dipoto shot down that speculation forcefully, saying he has "no interest" in Locker and would release the former quarterback if he had any interest in playing baseball again.
The Angels picked Locker, an outfielder, in the 10th round in 2009. Locker signed but remained in college at Washington to finish out his football career. He was a first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2011. Locker, 26, spent four injury-plagued years in the NFL, throwing for 4,967 yards and 27 touchdowns.