Josh Hamilton shut it down for a month, and Albert Pujols swung a bat earlier than ever. Hamilton added 28 pounds to provide more power, and Pujols shed seven and expects to be quicker. Hamilton takes solace in talking about his current challenge, and Pujols scoffs at the notion there even is one.

The two could not be more different -- Pujols as "The Machine," Hamilton as the flawed human -- and yet their situations heading into this critical 2014 season could not be more similar.

For the first time, there is significant doubt centering on the baseball abilities of Pujols and Hamilton, and the two high-priced Angels sluggers are out to prove they still belong among the game's elite.

"Whatever the perception of Josh and Albert might be right now, we have no doubt, and I don't think they do either," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "You don't reach the heights that they've reached as players without being super driven and confident in your abilities."

Dipoto, an ex-scout, has been out there for workouts. He has seen how much easier the ball jumps off Hamilton's bat now that he is at his customary 240 pounds, noticed how much lighter Pujols is on his feet while taking grounders. He reads the projections, lists their credentials -- a combined 14 trips to the All-Star Game, five World Series appearances, nine Silver Sluggers and four MVP's -- and takes the over.

It is so easy to doubt, when the freshest memory is so disconcerting and the ages suggest decline. But one does not have to squint too hard to find optimism, either.

"I'm expecting big years," Mike Trout, the 22-year-old center fielder who has quickly taken the spotlight from the two players to whom he is referring, says just before the start of camp.

"Albert, since I've been with him, I don't think he had a full, healthy year yet, so I'm excited to see what he can do. I've seen him growing up, watching him play. He's unbelievable. With Josh coming in at 240, he hopefully can do what he did against us with the Rangers. His swing looks good, he's worked hard and he's ready to get at it."