Garden Stater Trout is Future Angel in the Outfield
by Don Leypoldt
What animal runs like a deer, has the batting eye of an eagle and is built like a bull?
Must be a Trout. A Trout, that is, who is a veritable Jersey Devil for opposing pitchers.
Millville, NJ native, Mike Trout, was selected by the Los Angeles Angels with the 25th pick of the 2009 Draft. The 6í1", 217 pound, former football recruit has spent every minute of his minor league career hitting and running like a blue chip prospect.
"Last year was a big year for me in that I got to realize what minor league baseball is and what grind Iím going to have," Trout noted. "I got to play about 50 games last year. Getting that experience really helped to bring me up in my career."
The Angels quickly signed the first rounder and sent him to the Arizona Rookie League, where he whacked .360 and stole 13 bases. The centerfielder was named to the Leagueís All-Star team, an honor that he repeated this past June with Cedar Rapids in the low-A Midwest League.
"At the beginning of the year my goal was to win the Midwest League batting title," said Trout, who was promoted to high-A Rancho Cucamonga in July. "Now that I got moved up, itís to try and square up every ball, hit the ball hard and not try and do too much."
[insert pic of Mike Trout]
The only more obvious candidate for promotion this year was Stephen Strasburg. Trout led the Midwest League in batting average, on base percentage and steals while ranking fourth in slugging percentage.
There was a category where Trout ranked second to last among hitters: age. He did all of this while being the second youngest player in the league - and by less than a week at that.
New Jersey Baseball interviewed Trout in early August, just days before his 19th birthday. To find 18-year olds who even played a substantial amount of time in the Midwest League is difficult enough: there have only been 19 in the past 11 seasons.
14 of the young-uns played from 2000-2006. Of those 14, eight made the Majors. You may have heard of four of those eight: Miguel Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, Justin Upton and Adam Jones. Those four represent 10 All-Star game appearances.
But look even deeper at the numbers. Trout logged 312 Midwest League at bats. Comparing Troutís season to the Midwest League seasons of Cabrera, Sizemore, Upton and Jones shines light on the South Jersey productís dominance.
Trout hit .362, walked almost as much as he struck out, slugged .526 and stole 45 bases.
The four future All-Stars, when averaging out their Midwest League seasons over 312 at bats, hit nearly 100 points lower (.266), struck out almost twice as much as they walked, slugged .384 and averaged 10 steals.
This isnít to say that Cooperstown should start working on Troutís plaque now. A lot can happen between high-A and the Big Leagues.
But there is a reason why many feel that Trout is the best prospect in Minor League baseball. Period.
"Itís definitely tough," Trout admitted on dealing with the increasing hype surrounding him. "With me being so young you have to push everything aside and put all of that pressure behind you, go out on the field, have fun and donít worry about it. Just do your thing on the field."
Trout was the youngest player - and Baseball Americaís "most exciting" player - at this yearís Futures Game held in Angel Stadium. Trout singled, doubled and was clocked from the battersí box to home plate in 3.9 seconds. That is a blistering time for a right-handed hitter.
His favorite memory? "Just playing in Angels Stadium," he replied. "Hopefully Iíll be there in a couple of years. It was a great experience to play in my teamís home field. To go into the locker room and have my name on the locker, it is just a super experience.
"You had a lot of Angelsí fans at the game cheering for you. The first impression is always the one that they remember. It was a great time."
It took Trout a little bit of time to adjust to his promotion to Rancho Cucamonga - he hit .238 in his first 16 games. But he banged out four hits on August 1st at High Desert and then followed with a homer, a single and a steal in his next game.
"Pitching" has been the biggest difference between the two leagues. "There definitely arenít any straight fastballs. Everything has movement," observed Trout. "But itís been a great experience so far."
Trout is also adjusting to a full season of day-in/day-out baseball after spending his prep years in the Northeast where rainouts and brief schedules limit a young ballplayerís playing time.
"You really canít look at (the grind) because you really canít do anything about it," Trout responded.
He continued, "To go out there every night trying to compete and win, trying to win a championshipÖitís tough because some days you donít feel that great and your body is aching. You have to keep your body healthy and maintain your strength."
Itís not a grind that a kid just one year removed from high school typically faces. There are some things about the Garden State that Trout does miss. "Just being with my friends and buddies," he replied. "Everyone is having a summer right now and this is a job for me. Itís tough but Iím out here having fun and I canít complain about it. I get paid to do what I love in my life and that is to play baseball."
And Trout is playing it better than just about anyone else in the Minor Leagues.