ANAHEIM, Calif. — Where would the Angels be without Mike Trout?
Likely traveling up that certain creek without the proverbial paddle.
After losing a chance to make the team in spring training because of illness, Trout was disappointed but undeterred. He headed to Triple-A Salt Lake City and tore up the Pacific Coast League, hitting .403 with one homer, 13 RBI, six stolen bases and an OBP of .467. He also scored 21 runs and put together an OPS of 1.091 — all in just 20 games.
The outfielder was recalled to the Angels and made his season debut in Cleveland on April 28 and has proceeded to wreak havoc on American League pitching, batting .350 with five homers and 24 RBI through Sunday. In 39 games he’s scored 33 runs with 18 extra base hits and 13 stolen bases in 16 tries.
As the leadoff man, he has a .407 OBP and an OPS of .955. In the three-game sweep against the Rockies this past weekend, he went 8-for-14 with eight runs and two RBI. He’s not only in the running for a spot on the American League All-Star team, but if he keeps it up, he’ll have to be among the players in discussion for the MVP award. None of which surprises his manager.
“His skill set is off the charts,” said Mike Scioscia, who has managed over 2,000 major league games since taking over the Angels in 2000. “What makes him unique is his ability to take that skill set and make it so productive at such a young age. A lot of guys with high-end skill sets, it takes them a while to hone those skills and become productive at the big league level or even the Triple-A level. Mike was able to do it at 19, and that doesn’t happen very often at all.”
It’s not only individual talent that separates the New Jersey native from most of the players in the big leagues. His abilities also make his teammates better, and overall the team responds to whatever it is that makes Trout so dynamic.
When he joined the team — with the pressure already ratcheted up due to the $300-plus million owner Arte Moreno shelled out for free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson — the Halos were off to one of the worst starts in club history at 6-14. They needed to turn it around in a hurry because they trailed the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers (15-5 at the time) by nine games in the AL West.
It didn’t happen immediately, but as Trout became a fixture in the starting lineup, the club began its slow climb back into the race.
Since April 27, the Angels are 26-15 and trail the Rangers by just three games after the sweep this weekend in Colorado. LA has won 14 of 18, and Trout said that turning it around was never in question because of his teammates and the example set by a certain future Hall of Famer.
“There’s just too much talent here for us to play like we were,” Trout said. “I mean, look at this roster — (Albert) Pujols, Torii (Hunter), (Mark) Trumbo, Weave (Jared Weaver) — all the guys. We have a lot of guys who are proven winners, and you knew it wouldn’t be long before we started winning consistently.
“And Albert was a big part of that, not only with his bat, but the way he carried himself even when things weren’t great.
“Positive thoughts. You’ve just got to stay positive, and that’s what (Albert) always says, ‘stay positive.’ Don’t let the game get to you. Always have that visual in your head that you’re going to get a base hit when the team needs you.’
“You’re going to get into slumps, but you’re also going to have so many more at-bats the rest of the year that you can’t get on yourself about one AB. In that case, one (poor) at-bat could turn into 20. I never saw Albert lose that positive attitude, and that is great for a young player like myself to see.”
Many observers will also point to the firing of hitting coach Mickey Hatcher as a true turning point for the struggling offense. Since Jim Eppard has taken over the duties, the team hasn’t been shut out compared to eight times prior to May 15. Trout, who was coached by Eppard in Salt Lake City, isn’t buying into that theory.
“There was some talk among a few guys about (Hatcher),” Trout told the Ripken Baseball Show Friday on Sirius/XM radio. “But for the most part, I don’t think that was (the problem). Trumbo and I talked about it and we both liked Mickey in there.”
Whatever it was, the tough times seemed to have passed and the Angels are looking like the championship-caliber team they were supposed to be after a winter of re-tooling under new general manager Jerry Dipoto. But the player who’s had the biggest impact is the young phenom who was already on the roster, a man-child who loves the game and doesn’t even know the meaning of the word pressure.
“You just have to keep it in perspective,” Trout said. “I was talking to (Washington Nationals star rookie) Bryce (Harper) about this in the Arizona Fall League, and we both agree that once you’re out there on the field, you’re having fun. You don’t worry about the other stuff.
“After the game you might see or read something about yourself, but you’ve got to remember that it’s just one game and you have to continue to stay positive and try to win the next game.
“I like to stay positive. Last year (when I came up) I was struggling, but I was having good at-bats. So, that’s the only thing I kept telling myself. ‘You’re having good AB’s, stay positive and the hits will start falling.’
“Even the first couple games this year, I was lining out to right (field), lining out to third, but all that stuff evens up during the year. Later on you’ll get those bloop hits. The key to the game is to stay positive. Once you get that negative attitude in your head, it just keeps building.”
Sound like the words of a respected veteran, not a 20-year old in just his second season of likely a long and productive major league career.
“You always want to be a leader; that’s a big thing for me,” said Trout, an avid hunter and fisherman during the offseason. “Even at Salt Lake at the beginning of the year, if some guys we’re struggling, I tried to give them positive (advice), put positive thoughts in their minds so they’d start rolling around in there.”
Words that every manager wants to hear from someone so young — and talented.
“He has a lot of fun playing and he has a tremendous amount of confidence, which you expect from a guy with his talent,” Scioscia said, a large smile creasing his lips. “We think he’s on his way to an incredible career.”