Brand spankin’ new

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    By Brandon Judd

    One three-letter word describes minor league baseball in Utah County in 2005: new.

    Rookie league baseball is accustomed to newness every year as players rarely stay with the same team at this level.

    ?It?s the same thing every year,? Orem Owlz manager Tom Kotchman said. ?You play the hand you?re dealt. And you just try to get these guys and teach them a little about the game, how to play on the field and how to act off the field.?

    Only seven players return from last year?s team for the Owlz, who were the Provo Angels from 2001-2004. In addition to the new players, the minor league affiliate will play in a new town, Orem, under the lights of the Home of the Owlz at Utah Valley State after calling BYU?s Miller Field home the past four seasons.

    ?It [the stadium] speaks for itself,? Kotchman said. ?It?s pretty nice.?

    Filling new roles will also be a challenge for pitchers on the Owlz squad, who opened up their season Tuesday night in a four-game series against in-state rival Ogden. Kotchman said there is no set pitching rotation for the team yet.

    ?We do have some guys who were relievers in college,? he said. ?That helps having some guys who have relief experience who know how to go about it. A lot of these guys were starters, and know they?ll be relievers, and they?ve never been in that situation before.?

    Orem is under different management as well this year as Jeff Katofsky took over the ownership position from Rob Owens and Linda Gach Ray.

    ?The new owner is very aggressive, and he wants to do a lot of new things,? Kotchman said. ?Hopefully we can put together some teams like that have been here the first four years. Especially when you have a new owner, you want to put a good product on the field.?

    There is one thing, though, that won?t change for Kotchman, who has been a manager for 22 years in the Anaheim Angels organization. He will return his pitching coach, Zeke Zimmerman, who was on Kotchman?s staff in 2001 and on last year?s 2004 Pioneer Championship team. Keith ?KJ? Johnson will take over this season as the team?s batting coach, however.

    Even with all the change, Kotchman is not fazed, knowing he can rely on his staff to make the transitions smoothly, especially early on.

    ?I?ve got to depend on KJ and Zeke,? Kotchman said. ?I depend on them a lot anyway, but especially early in the year. They know these guys. They?ve had them all in extended spring [training]. And the ones who came from the draft, they had them in camp.?

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