On the morning of April 27, the Washington Nationals announced top prospect Bryce Harper was going to be added to the major league roster. Very shortly thereafter, and with much less fanfare surrounding it, the Los Angeles Angels announced that they too would be calling up their top prospect. Mike Trout would single-handedly turn the season around for the struggling Angels.
At the time of his call-up, the massively disappointing Angels were 6-14 and on the outside looking in for the playoff picture. As I write this, the Angels have a 53-45 record and are in line to be a Wild Card team for the American League. The Angels were so desperate to insert some sort of spark into their lineup with Trout, they released Bobby Abreu and ate the $9 million left on his contract to do so. Mike Trout has stats that would be considered ridiculous for any player, then you take into account he's only a 20-year-old rookie. It's amazing for me, as a 21-year-old, to watch him play and stop to think "Wow, this dude is actually younger than me and doing this." Trout made his MLB debut in 2011, when he was called up after being named the Minor League Player of the Year. He struggled last year, only hitting .220 with an abysmal .281 OBP. Here we are a year later and he has quickly established himself as not only the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year, but also Most Valuable Player as well.
Baseball is a team sport, pure and simple. It's not like basketball where any single player can take over and change the outcome by himself. Somehow, Mike Trout has managed to do just that. The Angels headline acquisition this past offseason was bringing in Albert Pujols. The former MVP's 2012 season was a nightmare. The Machine was broken, hitting only .225 without a single HR. His numbers were down across the board and the pressure was building up quickly. Trout got called up, started doing well and the pressure on Pujols was gone. Everyone was raving about Trout and Pujols started to turn things around. Pujols' numbers have climbed back up to where we're used to seeing and Trout is a big reason for that. Ask Mark Trumbo, another young all-star for the Angels, hitting becomes a lot easier when you come up to the plate with Mike Trout on second base. His ability to get on base has been rewarded by his teammates as Trout set a rookie record for scoring a run in 14 straight games this season. Trout, who leads all of baseball with 31 SB and 71 runs, is the very definition of a spark plug. With his impeccable .354 BA (the best in the American League) and .410 OBP (3rd in the American League) Trout is seemingly always getting on base. Not since Alfonso Soriano in the early 2000's have we had a player who could feasibly hit 50 HR and steal 50 bases in one season, down the road. In just 308 at-bats so far, Trout already has 15 HR this season and that's with missing most of the first month of the season. He currently has a slugging percentage of nearly .600, showing the raw power he already possesses at a young age. He is the very definition of a five-tool player.
People like to toss that term around quite often. "Five-tool player" is a sexy label - an attention grabber. More often than not, things don't quite pan out that way. It's just too high of a standard to hold someone to. The definition of a five-tool player states an individual hits for average and power, has a high baserunning IQ and steals bases, all the while being a great fielder. Well, considering he's at the top of the league in hitting and on pace for 30+ HR in his rookie year, not to mention leading the majors in stolen bases and runs, I'd say he has all of those covered. What about fielding? He plays center field for the Angels, the defensive anchor for the team. I could tell you about his fielding statistics and throw in some sabermetrics, but instead, I'll just link this video of the best catch of the season. The leaping ability exhibited there would have been impressive in an NBA game, but Mike Trout is pulling that off on a baseball field. I'm not much of a sabermetrics guy, I tend to believe the "basic" statistics are enough to judge a player's performance, but if I had to choose one for baseball to hang my hat on, it would be WAR. WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is exactly what the title dictates - how many wins an individual player gives his team with his performance over his possible replacement on the bench or in the minors. This 20-year-old rookie leads all of baseball in the statistical category. Simply put, this 2012 all-star is the most valuable player in the entire league.
I have a bold title for this article and deservedly so. There have been a lot of spectacular rookies in the history of baseball, especially in the past two decades. Ichiro Suzuki for the Seattle Mariners will jump out at you, seeing as how he accomplished what Trout is hoping to this year. Ichiro made his MLB debut in 2001 and promptly won the MVP and Rookie of the Year with a league leading .350 average and 56 SB. I tend to overlook Ichiro's "rookie" year, however, because he came here after playing professionally in Japan, being 27-years-old during his "rookie" year. Fernando Valenzuela, in 1981, created a frenzy in Los Angeles, his rookie year, finishing with the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards. Mark McGwire set a rookie record for HR in 1987 with 49, a number I think Trout could have threatened had he been playing this season since opening day. Who could forget Trout's Angels teammate, Albert Pujols' rookie year? The 13th round draft pick hit .329 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001 with 37 HR and 130 RBI, along with a .403 OBP. Did you know? Trout was in 5th grade when Pujols won his Rookie of the Year award. If I had to choose one rookie that really compares to Trout, I would say Fred Lynn of the Boston Red Sox. In 1975, Lynn hit .331 with an OBP of .401 and 21 HR. Lynn, who led the majors that year with 103 runs, managed to win the Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a Gold Glove. If I were a betting man, I'd say Trout is on his way to doing the exact same thing, except better. Those are the guys Trout is competing with. For him to truly go down as the greatest rookie of all time in baseball, he needs to continue what he's doing and capture the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. It won't hurt if he captures the Gold Glove and Silver Sluggers awards, which I think he will, as well.
There is still plenty of baseball left this year, but Trout's performance thus far has been too good not to talk about. He makes games exciting with his play on the field. His at-bats are must-see TV and his artistry in center field is a thrill to watch. He's a phenom in every sense of the word. If there is one thing I can say about this guy, just one statement that really shows how highly I think of him, it would be this - we could be watching the birth of what Ken Griffey Jr. could have been without the injuries. If Mike Trout can stay healthy and continue to put up these numbers while improving, remember he's just a rookie, then it wouldn't be as crazy as it sounds. High praise for someone with a very high ceiling.
Follow me on Twitter where I pretty much talk about sports all day long - @Michael_Ryne