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Young Players Impress

Times Staff Writer

Mike Scioscia, in his sixth year as Angel manager, called the collection of prospects the Angels have in camp “the strongest group we’ve had,” but bench coach Joe Maddon, in his 28th year with the organization, went a step --actually, a giant leap -- further.

“This is the best group we’ve had since Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Gary DiSarcina, Damion Easley and Troy Percival were coming up in the early 1990s,” Maddon said.

“These guys remind me of that group in a sense that they’re talented and they have great makeup. It’s kind of a nebulous thing, but they have a way about them that makes you feel they’re going to be big leaguers.”

The Angels have a 9-4 exhibition record, including Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs, primarily because their minor leaguers, who garner the majority of playing time in the first half of Cactus League play, have been outplaying the minor leaguers of other teams.

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The prospects who are closest to the big leagues are first baseman Casey Kotchman, who is batting .333 with a team-high nine runs batted in this spring and playing superb defense, including a diving stop of Jose Macias’ grounder in the fifth inning Sunday; pitcher Dustin Moseley, who hasn’t allowed a run in five innings; middle infielder Maicer Izturis, who is batting .364 with six RBIs and has dazzled defensively, and catcher Jeff Mathis, who is batting .444 with a home run, two triples and four RBIs.

But several players projected to begin the season at double-A Arkansas have been equally impressive, including pitcher Ervin Santana, who has a 95-mph fastball, nasty slider and front-of-the-rotation potential; outfielder Reggie Willits, a speedy center fielder who has bunted twice for hits and seems to glide into the gaps to chase down long fly balls; middle infielder Alberto Callaspo, who is batting .429 with six RBIs, and middle infielder Erick Aybar, who had a game-winning single Sunday.

“These guys are right on,” Maddon said. “Our scouting and development department has done a great job.”

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Right-hander John Lackey, who missed his last start because of a blister on the index finger of his pitching hand, returned Sunday and threw three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and walking one. He said the blister “is close to being healed,” and doesn’t expect it to slow him the rest of the spring.

Closer Francisco Rodriguez looked dominant during a one-two-three fifth, in which he struck out Jason DuBois and retired Todd Hollandsworth and Macias on grounders to first, and reliever Scot Shields looked sharp in the fourth, retiring his first two batters and allowing a single to Jeromy Burnitz, who was caught stealing.

Reliever Kevin Gregg threw two scoreless innings to close the victory, the Angels’ seventh win in their last eight exhibition games.

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The Angels remain confident that Cuban defector Kendry Morales, who is stuck in the Dominican Republic awaiting clearance to travel to the United States, will make it to camp. Scioscia said Morales is supposed to secure his final documents today, his visa Tuesday and travel to Arizona by the end of the week.... First baseman Darin Erstad, who has bronchitis, returned to Angel camp Sunday after missing two days, but only to do some light work. He is not expected to return to game action for several days.


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