Third baseman Brandon Wood is vying for a roster spot with the Colorado Rockies… (Getty Images )
TEMPE, Ariz. — This was not the career trajectory or the route into Tempe Diablo Stadium that Brandon Wood and the Angels had in mind a few years ago.
A first-round pick in 2003, rated by Baseball America as the game's third-best prospect in 2006, Wood was handed the Angels' third base job coming out of spring training in 2010 and fumbled it away amid a flurry of strikeouts, popups and weak grounders.
Wood was released last April, claimed by Pittsburgh and released after hitting .220 in 99 games for the Pirates. Monday he strolled into the Angels' spring-training home in black, purple and pinstripes, clinging to his fading hopes of winning a utility role with the Colorado Rockies.
"It feels a little weird to be walking this way," Wood said in the visitors' dugout. "When you go through the minor leagues and have the success I had, you don't envision yourself taking this road. I just look forward to new opportunities."
Wood is 27, so he's not about to give up finding a major league job and a swing to generate consistent contact, but that quest will probably resume at triple A.
Wood had seven hits, including two doubles and two triples, in his first 16 spring at-bats, but after going hitless in four at-bats with two strikeouts in the Rockies' 6-2 exhibition victory over the Angels on Monday, he is three for 23, his average falling to .250. He has 15 strikeouts and no walks in 40 total at-bats.
The former can't-miss prospect, who in 2005 hit .321 with 43 homers and 115 runs batted in at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga, replaced the departed Chone Figgins at third in 2010 and hit .146 with 71 strikeouts and six walks in 226 at-bats.
The Angels traded for third baseman Alberto Callaspo that July and Wood was released in April.
"You learn from everything you go through," Wood said. "I've been to the bottom and worked my way back up. … Nothing is handed to you. I had my opportunity with the Angels in 2010. Now I have one in Colorado. If you swing the bat, you find yourself some playing time and a spot."
Wood has one important ally: Rockies Manager Jim Tracy.
"Is he the finished product? No," Tracy said. "Are we headed in the right direction? Yes. He's a great kid with versatility that I love."
Taking the fifth
Garrett Richards' seemingly firm grip on the fifth rotation spot may have slipped a bit Monday, not so much because of his somewhat shaky performance against Colorado but because of the return of his primary competition for the job.
Jerome Williams, sidelined for more than three weeks because of a left hamstring strain, gaveup one hit in three scoreless innings of a triple-A game against the Oakland Athletics in Phoenix, striking out four and walking one.
Williams, who was 4-0 with a 3.68 earned-run average in 10 games last season, will get three more minor league starts in hopes of being ready by April 15, the first day the Angels will need a fifth starter.
Angels shortstop Erick Aybar made a spectacular play in the first inning Monday, lunging toward the middle to field Dexter Fowler's grounder and, with his back to the infield, flipping a no-look, reverse, underhand toss to second baseman Howie Kendrick for a forceout.
But Aybar suffered a minor injury on the play, bending the thumbnail on his throwing hand, and he left the game after three innings. "It's more a nuisance than anything else," Manager Mike Scioscia said.