LOS ANGELES—He arrived April 28 in Cleveland amid proclamations from the Angels that one player couldn’t change anything about their disappointing start.
And he changed everything.
Mike Trout’s arrival three weeks into the 2012 season was a transformative event for the Angels. Before he was promoted from Triple-A, the Angels were 6-14 and one of the biggest disappointments in baseball, offensively dysfunctional with a lineup dragged down by overpaid, underachieving veterans.
But Trout’s dynamic skills sent a jolt of electricity through the Angels. A rare combination of power and explosive speed, Trout has gone from highly regarded prospect to the American League’s Most Exciting Player in our Best Tools survey, nearly as fast as he covers the ground between home plate and first base (a remarkable 3.53 seconds as clocked by the Angels on a bunt single in early May).
That 6-14 team headed nowhere in April has ridden Trout’s energy back into contention, winning 51 of 84 games from the time of his promotion through the end of July, the best record in baseball during that span.
“Not too many people are more important than him,” Angels veteran Torii Hunter said of Trout’s role in the Angels’ rebirth.
“You go around the league and there’s not many guys with that kind of impact . . . He might be the Most Valuable Player in the league. I definitely think this kid is special. He’s a five-tool player. There aren’t many of those. (Pirates outfielder) Andrew McCutchen, maybe a couple other guys and you’ve got this kid . . . Albert (Pujols), he’s going to the Hall of Fame. But he’s never been a five-tool player.”
Trout has spent the summer putting his name next to a long string of Hall of Famers. On the front page of the game notes supplied by the Angels on Aug. 1, Trout’s name appeared in association with Todd Helton, Alex Rodriguez, Joe DiMaggio, Bernie Carbo, Rickey Henderson, Ichiro Suzuki, Jackie Robinson, George Sisler and Ty Cobb.
He finished July with a .353 average, 18 home runs and 31 stolen bases. Only one other player in baseball history has entered August with an average of .350 or above, 15 home runs and 30 steals: Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson with the Yankees in 1985 (.352, 16 homers 47 stolen bases).
Trout scored 80 runs in his first 81 games. No rookie had done that since Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio scored 80 times in his first 76 games in 1936.
He hit 10 home runs and scored 32 runs in July—calling it “a fun month for me.” Just two other rookies in major league history have hit 10 or more home runs and scored 30 or more runs in any month: Hall of Famer Frank Robinson with the Reds in 1956 and Luke Easter in 1950.
Trout spotted everyone else most of April as a head start and yet entered August leading the American League in batting by 26 points (.353 to Paul Konerko’s .327), leading the majors in runs by nine (80-71 over Curtis Granderson) and stolen bases by one (31-30 over Dee Gordon).
“I just went out there and played my game and the numbers are what they are,” said Trout, just turned 21 on Aug. 7.
Those numbers are only getting better. Trout has hit for a higher average each month since his promotion: .091 (1-for-11) in April, .324 in May, .372 in June and .392 during a torrid July in which he had 14 multi-hit games in 24 starts and went hitless just four times.
He entered August on pace to finish with 28 home runs and 55 stolen bases to go with his .350-plus average. No player in baseball history has finished a season with that stat package. No one has even finished a season with a .340 average, 20 home runs and 40 steals.
“Coming to the ballpark, the only things on my mind are competing, having fun and winning games,” Trout said, revealing his age most only in his cliché-riddled interviews.
Trout also entered rare air in the BA Best Tools survey. Just eight rookies had ever won a category in the 24-year history of BA’s survey of major league managers. Trout won three—Best Baserunner, Fastest Baserunner and Most Exciting Player—the most for a rookie since Ichiro Suzuki won four in 2001.
A shoo-in for American League rookie of the year, Trout could become the third-youngest batting champ in history (behind Hall of Famers Al Kaline and Ty Cobb) and the third player to win rookie of the year and MVP in the same season, joining Ichiro and Fred Lynn in 1975.
“I think the real flattering thing would be, 25 years from now, people comparing youngsters who are very talented to Mike Trout,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “And I think he has the ability to be that kind of player.”
When general manager Jerry Dipoto promoted Trout in April, the team’s decision-makers were “all aware of how good a player he could be.” But Trout’s performance has gone beyond even that. “Fantastic,” was Dipoto’s one-word description.
“I won’t say it’s a surprise because what you find out is when you take the fish and you throw them in the water, they swim. And that’s all Mike is doing,” Dipoto said. “He’s got the skills, the ability, the maturity to swim. He’s just swimming. He’s doing what he can do.”