TEMPE, Ariz. -- After what was a promising 13-year career playing Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, Hiroyuki Kobayashi is not sure why he spent the 2012 season in Japan's Industrial League.
The 34-year old right-hander played in the NPB from 1998 to 2011 and posted a 3.53 ERA. In 2011, Kobayashi's ERA was a solid 3.00 and he struck out 45 batters in 39 innings.
While the NBP clubs did not see enough out of Kobayashi to advance him past the Industrial League in 2012, the Angels like what they have been seeing in 2013.
"I think his arm stroke looks good," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got a little bit more life than people might have seen or we saw on video. And he's got a nasty split. We'll see."
Through a translator, Kobayashi said he throws a slider, split-finger fastball and a forkball.
Kobayashi -- who has dreamed of playing in the United States since 2001 -- was familiar with the Angels organization and surprised when they called to invite him to Spring Training. Kobayashi was signed to a Minor League contract in early February.
"I was very surprised with the Angels," Kobayashi said. "I've been a big fan of the Angels because their games [were] broadcast a lot when they had [Hideki] Matsui."
General Manager Jerry Dipoto scouted and signed Kobayashi after receiving a call from his agent saying the pitcher was looking for a chance to pitch in the United States.
"I thought a lot about him when I saw him in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and that really was the last time I saw him," Dipoto said. "He was very good, he's got an outstanding changeup, he's got a very good split-finger pitch and it's a different look than what we can provide in our bullpen. If it just so happens that he finds a spot on our team, then we all walk away very happy."
Pujols unlikely to play in games before mid-March
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, may not be getting into Spring Training games until mid-March.
The Angels don't believe he needs to do so any sooner than that in order to be ready by Opening Day on April 1.
Pujols, who had the procedure done early in the offseason, showed up to Spring Training a couple days before he was scheduled to and has been taking batting practice ever since. The 33-year-old has also been taking ground balls hit right to him, jogging on a treadmill and doing bunt defense, but he is playing it safe and isn't sure when he'll start running full speed.
"We'll see where he is week to week," Angels manager Mike Scioscia told reporters on Wednesday. "Right now he feels really good targeting Opening Day being ready. If he's playing by mid-March, he's fine. That's probably the back end of what he needs. I think if he's ready sooner, fine, we can work him in. I think he's approaching it the way he needs to."
Focused Calhoun hopes to stick with Halos
TEMPE, Ariz. -- As a result of the valuable experience he gained a year ago, the theme of Kole Calhoun's offseason was focus.
"I kind of got a taste last year of what it's really going to take to get up here [in the Majors] and stay up here," Calhoun said. "I didn't change much this offseason, but was really focused on bettering myself to be able to play up here and stay. I did a lot of things with my swing, worked at all spots in the outfield and a little bit more at first base."
The Angels selected Calhoun in the eighth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and he is currently ranked by MLB.com as the No. 5 prospect in the organization. Calhoun made his Major League debut on May 22, 2012, and he had 23 at-bats during his stint with the Angels. He hit .174 in the big leagues, but spent the majority of the year with Triple-A Salt Lake, where he hit .298 with 73 RBIs.
The left-handed hitter's stint in the Majors was brief, but the experience -- which Calhoun described as "unbelievable" -- is what fueled his offseason.
"You get a taste of it, you get to touch your dream a little bit and you want to get back," Calhoun said. "It gives you the driving force to keep working and getting better."
Scott Cousins, Trent Oeltjen, J.B. Shuck and Matt Young are among those competing with Calhoun for the final roster spot, but the 25-year-old Arizona native is not spending any time worrying about other players.
"I'm working on getting better," Calhoun said. "You know what spots are open and there are some things that can happen, but if I'm focused on that my head's not where it should be. I'm getting ready to play, no matter where it's at."
Whether Calhoun begins the 2013 season in Anaheim or Salt Lake is yet to be seen, but either way, he is using the Spring Training experience to learn as much as he can while sharing a clubhouse with established players.
"There are guys that have been MVP, [made] numerous All-Star [games and] been World Series champions," Calhoun said. "They've played at the highest level for many, many years. If you can pick and take something for each of those guys and have half as good of a career as those guys, that's a pretty good life."
Burnett says back slowly getting better
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sean Burnett's back injury -- a fluke accident that occurred while he was grocery shopping -- does not have either Burnett or the Angels worried.
"He's better," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's day to day. We expect to see him hopefully make improvements over the next week and get evaluated. We don't have a timetable, but the prognosis is good for him to get this inflammation behind him until he starts throwing."
Burnett, who signed with the Angels in December after having spent the past four seasons as a reliever with the Nationals, said his back felt better Wednesday than it did Tuesday.
"It's slowly getting better," Burnett said. "As soon as it loosens up, I'll be good to go."
Scioscia said Burnett will be evaluated over the next week. However, that does not mean he will be out for the entire week, as Burnett's doctors told him to listen to his body and play it by ear.
While there is still no timetable on Burnett's return, it is only Feb. 20, and Scioscia believes there is no reason to worry about the 30-year-old left-handed reliever missing Opening Day.
"I think if you look at the big picture, this is something we don't see as an issue for him to get ready to start the season," Scioscia said. "If he was a starter, there would be more concern, but being in the bullpen, there should be no reason, at this point, [for us to] be concerned."
William Boor is an associate reporter for MLB.com and Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.