Cockcroft: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim preview

Since the turn of the century, the Angels have earned a reputation for having one of the richest farm systems in baseball. Built around prospects they developed in the late 1990s, the Angels won the 2002 World Series, then introduced other key youngsters (Chone Figgins, Francisco Rodriguez, John Lackey) and a superstar free agent (Vladimir Guerrero) into the mix en route to two more division titles in 2004-05.

Now, however, as the Angels continue to introduce their blue-chip prospects into the mix, it's a bit of a transition period for the team, with some key disappointments costing the team a third consecutive division title in 2006. First baseman Casey Kotchman got off to a slow start and later revealed he was suffering from mononucleosis, catcher Jeff Mathis was completely overmatched by big-league pitching, third baseman Dallas McPherson became a strikeout machine and now will miss much of 2007 following back surgery, and Kendry Morales and Joe Saunders were largely ineffective in smaller roles.

Still, there's plenty to get excited about in Anaheim -- oops, Los Angeles -- and assuming all goes well with the bulk of these youngsters, the next decade could be awfully bright for the Angels. On the pitching side, John Lackey, now 28, developed into a legitimate ace. Ervin Santana, only 24, won 16 games and at times looked like the kind of pitcher who should be a consistent No. 2 for years. And most importantly, Jered Weaver, also 24, stepped in with 11 wins and a 2.56 ERA in 19 starts, perhaps on his way to becoming the best of them all. Plus, closer Francisco Rodriguez is 25 years old, meaning if his arm can hold up to that violent delivery, he should be in line for a long career as a top closer.