No matter what happens over the next two weeks, Taylor Featherston figures to be separated from at least two of his new best friends by the time the Angels open the regular season.
That's because Featherston is one of four players fighting for the starting second base job in a lineup that otherwise appears set. And though there's been very little separation among the four on the field, there's been even less separation off it.
"We've really become close," Featherston said.
So close that Johnny Giavotella — who along with Grant Green and Josh Rutledge is also competing for the second base job as well as the backup role behind it — frequently leans in from the adjoining locker to help Featherston answer questions.
"It's been a fun competition between all of us," Giavotella said. "There's no animosity. We're all friends. We're all rooting for one another."
And that seems odd, given what's at stake.
The Angels began spring training auditioning replacements for former All-Star Howie Kendrick, who was traded to the Dodgers. But so far none of the leading candidates has stepped forward to seize the job.
Featherston, 25, selected in December's Rule 5 draft and the only one of the four to have never played in the majors, is getting the longest look, having appeared in 14 of the Angels' 15 games. And though he's batting .292 he also leads the team with three errors.
Green, the most versatile of the lot, has played every infield position as well as left field in his career and is hitting .304 this spring. But he's also struck out a team-high nine times.
"I'm not worried because every single year I've come to camp [and] start off a little slow," said Green, 27, who was acquired in a 2013 trade with Oakland. "All I can do is play hard. I think I've proven to them that I can play at this level and I deserve to be here."
Giavotella, 27, a former Kansas City Royal, went hitless in three at-bats as a left fielder in a B game Thursday and is hitting .250 in Cactus League play, and Rutledge, obtained in a December deal with the Colorado Rockies, is hitting .226 with eight strikeouts in 31 at-bats.
Barring a trade, someone has to win the competition and the first runner-up figures to make the roster as a utility infielder. The other two are likely to start the season in the minors.
"I'm enjoying getting to know these guys and play with these guys," said Rutledge, 25. "It's a competition. Everyone's going out there and playing hard and whatever happens, happens.
"It's been the same every spring training. There's always been some kind of a job that's out there to win. To me, it's no different."
One thing that makes that friendship sustainable for the four is the knowledge that the decision is out of their hands. No matter how well — or how poorly — they play, the winner will ultimately be chosen by Manager Mike Scioscia and General Manager Jerry Dipoto.
"I don't make those decisions," Green said. "I just go out there when my name's on the lineup card and play. That's their decision. And there's nothing I can do to control it."
One thing that could influence it, though, is the fact Green and Rutledge have options left, meaning they could be sent down to the minors. But if Featherston doesn't make the opening-day roster he has to be offered back to the Rockies, and the Angels would have to place Giavotella on waivers before he can be demoted.
Scioscia promises that won't affect his choice.
"Just because a guy doesn't have options doesn't put him in a different position to make our club," he said. "We're going to go with the guys that we feel give us the best look. Guys that we think give us the best roster."
For the Friendly Four, then, it's truly a case of "may the best man win."
"I'm rooting for Taylor just as much as I'm rooting for Green and Josh," Giavotella said. "So it's a friendly competition. We're all playing hard. And I wish the best for all of them."
Scioscia said right-hander Garrett Richards, who is recovering from knee surgery, won't be ready to break camp with the Angels when the team returns to Southern California on April 2.
"He just needs to get his pitch count up and experience as much as he can on the [fielding] side," Scioscia said of Richards, who tore the patellar tendon in his left knee while covering first base last August in Boston. So the plan is for Richards to continue working out in Tempe before setting off on a minor league rehab assignment.
The Angels hope Richards, who was 13-4 with a rotation-best 2.61 earned-run average last season, will be able to rejoin the staff by mid-April.