Mike Trout, 20, is diving into the future with talent and confidence

Rookie Mike Trout has made an impression with the Angels in a very short time.
Rookie Mike Trout has made an impression with the Angels in a very short time. (JACK DEMPSEY / Associated Press)
Posted: June 13, 2012

DENVER - Mike Trout looked as if he had just bitten into a lemon. His face went through a series of contortions after the rookie, a graduate of Millville High, was asked a simple question: Had he thought about the possibility of being named an all-star in his rookie season?

"No," the 20-year-old outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels said politely, but emphatically. "I don't look at that stuff."

The fact that the question is even being addressed is a testament to the level the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Trout has reached. A little more than three years ago he was competing against Vineland and Egg Harbor Township High Schools and was named The Inquirer's 2009 South Jersey player of the year.

After a three-game weekend sweep of the Colorado Rockies in Coors Field, Trout entered Monday's game against the host Los Angeles Dodgers batting .350, with five home runs, 24 RBIs and 33 runs scored in 157 at-bats. He also had 15 stolen bases and a .955 OPS.

And he won't turn 21 until Aug. 7.

Trout and Washington's 19-year-old Bryce Harper are leading the next generation of projected superstars in Major League Baseball. Both were named rookies of the month for their respective leagues in May.

On Monday, Trout and fellow Angels outfielder Torii Hunter were named co-players of the week in the American League.

The Angels were 6-14 when Trout was called up from triple-A Salt Lake City. Because of a viral infection and a shoulder issue, Trout had no chance of making the Angels out of spring training; he had just six exhibition-game at-bats.

He was called up April 28 to replace former Phillie Bobby Abreu, who had been released the previous day. Abreu has landed on his feet with the Dodgers and harbors no animosity toward his successor.

"He's really good, has got talent, and is smart, doesn't try to do too much, and he plays the game the right way," Abreu said recently, when the Dodgers visited Citizens Bank Park. "He is a very humble guy, too, a nice kid."

Since the nice kid was called up and put in the leadoff spot, the Angels have taken off. They entered Monday's game with a 32-29 record, having gone 26-15 since Trout was called up. During the sweep of the Rockies, he went 8 for 14 with four stolen bases, eight runs scored and two RBIs.

"He has played just about as good as anybody in the league since he's been called up," Angels pitcher Dan Haren said.

Trout's rise is due to several factors, including incredible athletic ability, baseball instincts beyond his years and a passion for the game that is evident every time he takes the field.

The glow

When players or coaches are asked to describe Trout, they usually do so with a glow in their eyes, an excitement sparked by the mere mention of his name.

Trout has been the leadoff hitter, playing mainly in center field, but also has spent time as a corner outfielder.

"How mature he is at such a young age is pretty impressive," said first baseman and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. "He is a great player who is taking advantage of the opportunity to play every day, and he has brought such positive energy to the club since he came up."

Trout wanted to make the team out of spring training but did the next-best thing. He hit .403 in 20 games for the triple-A Salt Lake Bees. Since his call-up, he has been almost as dominant against major-league pitching.

"You have to step back and realize this is a 20-year-old kid doing this, and for him to be this advanced at such a young age and producing this much in the major leagues . . ." Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Of course, Trout isn't above being teased by his teammates. They are getting asked more and more about him by visiting and home media alike. Yet the veterans seem to try to top each other with plaudits.

"He is one of the most dynamic players I have ever seen, if not the most," infielder-outfielder Mark Trumbo said.

Veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who is in his first season with the Angels, added, "I'm a big fan."

And it's not just the Angels who have praise for Trout.

"I love how Trout plays the game," Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He impacts the game in so many ways."

The key for Trout, or any player, is to stay healthy. He plays with an all-out fury, and on Sunday he crashed into the wall, almost making a sensational catch on a three-run home run by Colorado's Tyler Colvin in the Angels' 10-8 victory.

Trout suffered a bruised left wrist but stayed in the game.

"It's sore, but I will be fine," he said afterward, displaying his customary toughness.

Draft time

The way Trout has burst on to the scene, many may wonder how 24 players were picked ahead of him in the 2009 draft. He wasn't even the first Angel selected.

Eddie Bane, who was scouting director of the Angels at the time and is now a scout for the Detroit Tigers, said Trout was the second player on the Angels' board, behind Stephen Strasburg, who was taken first by Washington and has justified that selection.

"The Yankees also had him as their No. 2 player, and they were selecting after us, and I told them he would never get to them," Bane said.

The Phillies didn't have a pick until No. 75 that year.

"He was way up on our board," said Marti Wolever, the Phillies' assistant general manager/amateur scouting. "If we had a pick up in that vicinity, he probably would have been our guy."

Not all teams saw it that way. Northeast bias was one reason Bane suggested for Trout's dropping so much.

Teams grade players on a 20-80 system, and Bane said Trout was an 80 runner. It's considered excellent speed if a righthanded or lefthanded batter can get to first base in 4.0 seconds.

"We had Mike at 3.89," Bane said. "We are so tools-oriented as a business that if a guy can run, a lot of scouts don't care if he can do anything else; they go crazy over that tool."

The Angels had two picks in the draft - Nos. 24 and 25. At 24, they took Randal Grichuk, a high school outfielder from Texas now playing in single A. Trout was taken next.

If Trout was second on their board, why wasn't he picked first by the Angels at No. 24?

"It was a little bit of gamesmanship," Bane said. "We were going to take both of them, but Mike's agent had put out a different [financial] figure before the draft."

Trout felt confident he wouldn't slide past the Angels. Current Angels national crosschecker Greg Morhardt was the area scout at the time, and he had seen Trout in a handful of games his senior year at Millville. So Trout knew that the Angels thought highly of him.

Trout also appears in a footnote in draft lore. He was the only player to show up for the MLB Network's inaugural coverage of the draft. It was held at MLB studios in Secaucus, N.J.

"It was one of the greatest nights of my life, getting to share that with my family," Trout said.

He made a favorable impression on - among others - commissioner Bud Selig, and he has enjoyed following Trout's progress.

"You can really see how much he loves to play and that he is very respectful of the game, and those are attributes that ought to make him a wonderful representative of our sport in the future," Selig said in an e-mail response to The Inquirer. "I am looking forward to watching all his success in the years ahead."

No holding out

A key for Trout was beginning his professional career quickly after the June 9 draft in 2009. The deadline for draft choices to sign that year was Aug. 17, and Strasburg was one of the players who took it down to the wire.

Trout's adviser/agent, Craig Landis, wanted him to hold out for more than the MLB-recommended slot payment. That strategy, however, quickly changed.

Jeff Trout, Mike's father and a former minor-league player in the Minnesota Twins organization, called Landis about two weeks after the draft.

"Mike was driving us nuts, and he wanted to play," Jeff Trout recalled.

So Trout signed on July 2, earning a $1.215 million bonus.

"We felt possibly there would be more money if he waited, and I explained that to him. But Mike didn't want to wait," Landis said. "I work for him, and it's his career."

So, while many first-rounders didn't play that season because they signed late, Trout played in 39 games for the Angels' rookie-level club in the Arizona Summer League, hitting .360. He also appeared in five games for single-A Cedar Rapids.

"It definitely benefited him signing early and getting to play that season," said Morhardt, the scout who signed Trout.

Trout kept tearing up the minors. Because of injuries to the Angels last season, he was called up and appeared in 40 games. That was the first time in his brief professional career that he struggled. With the Angels, Trout hit .220, striking out 30 times in 123 at-bats.

"I wouldn't say last year he struggled; he was just trying to figure out the league," Hunter said. "He was 19 in the major leagues and didn't know the pitching, the stadiums, and what to expect. So I think you wash that away."

Trout said he benefited greatly from his first trip to the big leagues.

"Those extra 100 at-bats last year were really good for me and have made me feel comfortable," he said.

Remaining loyal

When Trout is in a game, he doesn't look anything like a player just three years out of high school. While he has adjusted to professional baseball's travel grind, Trout has remained a homebody at heart.

"The first couple of years in the minors were tough for me," he said. "My numbers were there, but being away from home so young was tough."

In the offseason, he returns for a few months to Millville, living in his room and having friends over for Ping-Pong and darts, games of basketball and some hunting excursions.

Most of all, Trout's head hasn't swelled with all the attention in high school and now.

"He handled the attention so well in high school, and scouts saw that in him," Millville baseball coach Roy Hallenbeck said. "They refer to it as a sixth tool - his great mental and emotional makeup."

Among Trout's impressive qualities is his loyalty. His celebrity has risen, but he travels in the same crowd. Trout even has had the same girlfriend since high school, Jessica Cox.

"I met her in high school, and we trust each other, and she is one of my best friends," Trout said. "She is somebody I can talk to and is always here for me."

Trout is close to his family, which includes parents Jeff and Debbie; his sister Teal, a married mother of two; and his brother Tyler, a law student at Rutgers-Camden. His mother describes Mike as a doting uncle to Teal's young children.

Even though his father played minor-league baseball, it was Debbie Trout who played a major role in Mike's baseball development.

Jeff Trout, also a former head baseball coach at Millville, didn't want to push his son and figured that playing in local leagues would be enough.

"It was his mom who said that we should look at having him play on travel teams," Jeff Trout said. "She deserves a lot of credit."

Debbie Trout said she only wanted to do this because of the passion her son showed.

"We never had to force him to play, and he always loved it," she said. "When he was little, he was so excited, he'd sleep in his uniform."

Jeff Trout also noticed something about his son's passion for the game at an early age.

"Mike was an active kid, but even when he was really young, he could sit and watch a baseball game for nine innings," he said.

And now that active kid is turning into a star.

A 2012 all-star? Right now, that's a touchy subject.

"I think it is a long ways away, and I don't know if we want to get that far ahead of ourselves. But there is no doubt he has played at a high level," Scioscia said.

That will make it more difficult for Trout and the Angels to avoid the subject much longer.

Two of a Rookie Kind

   Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will be the leading candidates for American League and National League rookies of the year, respectively.

   Trout will likely face stiffer competition with players such as Texas righthander Yu Darvish also eligible.

   If Trout and Harper end up as rookies of the year, they will make an impressive pairing. Here are some of the other top rookie of the year winners in a single season since the award was presented to both leagues beginning in 1949.

Year        AL WINNER                       NL WINNER

2001    Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners        Albert Pujols, Cardinals

1997    Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox        Scott Rolen Phillies

1967    Rod Carew, Twins                 Tom Seaver, Mets

1964    Tony Oliva, Twins                 Richie Allen, Phillies

1956    Luis Aparacio, White Sox        Frank Robinson, Reds

1951    Gil McGougald, Yankees        Willie Mays, Giants

- Marc Narducci

Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com. Follow @sjnard on Twitter.

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