If you’re a scout, you log your miles and rack up your Marriott points. You sit through the rain delays and sweat in your khakis. You miss your family and worry about your kid’s cough from afar. You spend night after night watching baseball because every now and then you see something you’ve never seen before.
And when you see “it,” if you’re a good scout, you know you’ve been blessed.
It may be a player who hits a 500-foot home run, but it’s just as likely to be a player who triggers a memory of a past star. For years scouts looked for the next Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio because those were the benchmarks. Now scouts try to find the next Ken Griffey Jr. or Albert Pujols.
Such blessings aren’t evenly distributed. If you scout in the Florida or Southern California, you’ve got a pretty good chance of seeing something special on a regular basis.
If you’re an area scout in the Northeast, you may see hundreds of games without ever seeing what you’ve been searching for. In five years as an area scout for the Angels covering the Northeast, Greg Morhardt—known to his friends in the industry simply as Mo—spent a lot of time looking and not much time finding. He crisscrossed plenty of highways and dodged the raindrops that ruin a scout’s day. For five years, he hadn’t turned in a position player from his area that he projected to be a major league regular.
And then it happened.
He was at a showcase, just like dozens of other scouts. He looked up and saw a player who intrigued him. It was a 16-year-old middle infielder by the name of Mike Trout.
Morhardt checked his scout book for the event and saw Trout was from Millville, N.J.
“How crazy is that?”
When Morhardt was a player himself (and quite a good one—the Twins made him the 36th overall pick in the 1984 draft), his roommate for spring training one year and his teammate at Double-A Orlando was Jeff Trout. He remembered Trout as an undersized second baseman who knew how to hit and got every ounce out of his ability.
But more than anything, he remembered that Jeff Trout always talked about being from Millville, N.J.
|1981||Mike Marshall, 1b, Dodgers|
|1982||Ron Kittle, of, White Sox|
|1983||Dwight Gooden, rhp, Mets|
|1984||Mike Bielecki, rhp, Pirates|
|1985||Jose Canseco, of, Athletics|
|1986||Gregg Jefferies, ss, Mets|
|1987||Gregg Jefferies, ss, Mets|
|1988||Tom Gordon, rhp, Royals|
|1989||Sandy Alomar Jr., c, Padres|
|1990||Frank Thomas, 1b, White Sox|
|1991||Derek Bell, of, Blue Jays|
|1992||Tim Salmon, of, Angels|
|1993||Manny Ramirez, of, Indians|
|1994||Derek Jeter, ss, Yankees|
|1995||Andruw Jones, of, Braves|
|1996||Andruw Jones, of, Braves|
|1997||Paul Konerko, 1b, Dodgers|
|1998||Eric Chavez, 3b, Athletics|
|1999||Rick Ankiel, lhp, Cardinals|
|2000||Jon Rauch, rhp, White Sox|
|2001||Josh Beckett, rhp, Marlins|
|2002||Rocco Baldelli, of, Devil Rays|
|2003||Joe Mauer, c, Twins|
|2004||Jeff Francis, lhp, Rockies|
|2005||Delmon Young, of, Devil Rays|
|2006||Alex Gordon, 3b, Royals|
|2007||Jay Bruce, of, Reds|
|2008||Matt Wieters, c, Orioles|
|2009||Jason Heyward, of, Braves|
|2010||Jeremy Hellickson, rhp, Rays|
Morhadt was staring at an old teammate’s son. And while Jeff Trout may have been short, no one would ever say that about his son. Even at 16, Mike Trout had a physicality that stood out. That was apparent at first glance. Watch a little longer and you’d see something more surprising: he was amazingly fast.
Most baseball speedsters are like Ferraris. They’re small, compact and built to go from home to first in the blink of an eye. But watching Trout was like watching a massive Mercedes with a big engine under the hood. He looked like a power hitter, but when you pulled out the stopwatch, you realized he was faster than all those Ferraris.
Those tools were apparent to anyone paying attention. Morhardt saw more.
Maybe it was because he knew Trout’s father. Maybe it was just the feeling that comes from years of scouting. He felt confident that Mike had his father’s intensity and feel for the game just from talking to him. And in Mike’s case, the desire and confidence was packaged in a body that gave him a chance to do things most baseball players can only dream of doing. Put it together, and Morhardt was convinced that he was scouting a future star.
“Michael is very strong and fast. You see guys who are fast, you see guys who are strong. It’s very unusual when a guy has both elements,” Morhardt said. “How many guys have great athletic minds but don’t have those qualities? And he had the personality to handle the everyday-ness of baseball.”
Morhardt’s conviction prompted the Angels to take Trout at the back of the first round in 2009. Just two years later, Trout has already made it to the big leagues and is Baseball America’s 2011 Minor League Player of the Year.
An Instant Conviction
Sure, Morhardt watched Trout hit. He saw Trout dabble with switch-hitting. He watched him field and quickly realized that Trout’s future was as a center fielder. But hey, if other teams focused on Trout’s limitations as a shortstop, all the better. The Angels held the 24th and 25th picks in the first round for 2009, so they needed a whole lot of other teams to not be as enamored with Trout as Morhardt was.
By the time Morhardt fell in love with Trout, East Carolina’s Billy Godwin had already asked Trout out. Godwin had first noticed Trout in 2007. He kept in touch, and even prepared Trout for the insanity that would come when more schools and scouts got a look at what Godwin had seen.
Sure enough, before his senior season Trout had heard from more than 100 schools. The recruit who was thought of as just another potential signee the year before now looked to be a cornerstone of East Carolina’s recruiting class. Louisiana State, Rice, San Diego and Arizona State all came calling. But Trout told Godwin he was committed. There was a comfort level between the coach and the player.
Still, Godwin had to ask, “Why did you pick us?”
“Coach, you came to Millville,” Trout said.
By the next time Godwin came to Millville, he realized that Trout wasn’t going to be a program cornerstone. It was Trout’s senior season and Godwin made a trip up to see his top recruit.
What he saw was both encouraging and depressing. Godwin said he always hopes for the best for his recruits, but in this case, Trout’s best meant that he would never make it to college.
“When I walked in, I knew I was in trouble because 25 teams were there,” Godwin said. “When I saw what he did on the field that day, I knew this kid had gone from being a solid signee to an elite player.”
By the time Godwin made his trip that May, Morhardt had become Trout’s biggest fan. And if Godwin was disappointed to see Trout gain wider acclaim, Morhardt was even more so.
“His dad called me one time that year. He was disappointed because Mike pitched four innings and didn’t pitch well,” Morhardt said. “About halfway through the year, I told him ‘Trouter, I hope he doesn’t get another hit the rest of the year.’
“You think a player can play or you don’t think he can play. Once you have it in your mind that he can play, if he goes 4-for-4 in a high school game why do I care? If he lines out or pops out in a high school game, if you already know he can do some things, it really doesn’t matter. But it does matter to guys who come in and see him one time. If you see him one time and he walks twice and pops out to center field, then you may say, I didn’t see anything . . . You’re hoping Michael has the worst day of his life on the day a guy a couple of picks ahead of you is in to see him.”
Maybe he hoped too hard, because when Angels scouting director Eddie Bane (who has since been fired and now works for the Tigers) and crosschecker Jeff Malinoff came to see Trout, he popped up three times and didn’t square up one ball.
On one of the pop-ups, though, Bane noticed that Trout was almost standing on third base when the ball was caught. And with that, along with Morhardt’s recommendation, he was sold.
“That’s a testimony to Eddie Bane,” Morhardt said. “Eddie didn’t see him do anything technically, like him hitting a home run, getting a stolen base. When Eddie and Jeff saw him, he didn’t do it. But Eddie, to his credit, he listens to his other scouts. He didn’t see the performance. He saw the ingredients.”
Speed And Power
Bane and Malinoff might not have seen him make solid contact, but they were both sold that Trout was the guy they wanted. When they wrote up their reports, they put their thumbs on the scale to try to help make the case. When it came to Trout’s speed, it was easy to give him a 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. They thought he could be above-average defensively. They thought his arm was fine.
But when it came to the hit and power tools, well that’s where it became interesting. With any high school hitter, scouts must project a lot. With Trout, Bane and Malinoff were willing to stretch and say that Trout would be an above-average hitter.
“We put down 60s. We cheated the scale a little bit—we really liked him so we figured that would help us get him,” Bane said. “This time we didn’t cheat high enough. If things keep going like they are, he’s an 80 hitter.”
When Morhardt filled out his official report on Trout he had to cheat too. Area scouts are asked to put a overall future potential (OFP) grade on a prospect by taking a players’ individual tools and averaging them out. Morhardt quickly realized he had a problem.
“If you say he’s an 80 runner, and you think he might be a 70 hitter with 70 power. By the time you’re done he’s a 72 (OFP) or something ridiculous like that,” Morhardt said.
A 72 is the kind of number you throw on a Hall of Famer. In Morhardt’s case he was putting that number on a 17-year-old high school outfielder from a small town in New Jersey. He worried that if he turned in that number, people would think he had lost his mind. So he took his thumb off the scale. He toned down a couple of grades and ended up filing Trout as a 67 or 69, he can’t remember which.
“You had to soft-pedal it because people in general would say, ‘Come on.’ Really good players get low 60s or high 50s. You could be a high 50s OFP and be a first-round pick,” he said.
Most teams projected Trout as a late first-round pick at best. Morhardt had just given him the highest OFP he’d ever put on a player.
By this point his conviction that Trout was a one-of-a-kind prospect was well known throughout the organization. When the Angels’ scouts held their weekly teleconferences during the season, Bane and the crosscheckers knew they could drive Morhardt crazy by not mentioning Trout’s name, or by listing off three or four other players they liked better. Other times, they tried to evaluate how intensely Morhardt believed in Trout by questioning him, trying to poke holes in Trout to see if he ever wavered.
“It was fun to see his reaction. You could have gotten a hammer and chisel and you weren’t prying him off Trout,” said current Angels scouting director Ric Wilson, who was then a crosschecker.
“If I can’t say Michael is going to be a good player, then when am I going to say a player is a good player?” Morhardt said. “He didn’t allow you to poke holes in him.”
Of course, an area scout by himself isn’t going to persuade a team to take a player in the first round. Malinoff and Wilson as well as East Coast supervisor Mike Silvestri all liked Trout as well, even though they never saw him at his best.
“When Eddie saw him the first time, I can remember getting a phone call from him,” Wilson said. “He said, ‘He didn’t do much performance-wise, but I don’t know what It is, but he has It.’ “
“It” is what scouts spend years looking for, and it also explains why scouting is so subjective as to defy characterization at times. It’s the knowledge that is built up over a lifetime. Morhardt’s convictions about Trout had something to do with Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro, whom he played against when he was at South Carolina.
“I thought back, ‘How was Palmeiro when he was 17? How was Will Clark? How was Oddibe McDowell?’ Michael physically is better than all of them. He had the size and strength and the mind of athlete. I’d put my job on the line for this guy, yeah, but it was a layup,” Morhardt said. “It’s what a person likes if you’re looking for that graceful athlete. I signed in ’84. I’ve seen a lot of players since then. I’ve never seen anyone at 17 who was faster and stronger than Michael was at 17.”
Angels scout after Angels scout came back with the same thoughts. He may not have a picture-perfect swing, and he may not have punished some pretty mediocre pitching, but the athleticism, the speed, the frame and the makeup added up to the player the Angels wanted to draft.
By the time their predraft meetings arrived, Bane and the Angels scouting department put Trout No. 2 on their board, behind only Stephen Strasburg.
Conversations with scouts and scouting directors for other teams make it clear that most teams saw Trout as a late first-round pick. Some teams worried about his bat. Others weren’t so sure he would end up as a plus defender in the outfield.
But the biggest problem seemed to be where Trout lived. The Trouts may be proud to be from Milville, but in scouting circles the Northeast gets a bad rap. Springs are short, winters are long.The average Northeastern prospect isn’t polished. And before Trout, New Jersey’s first-rounders had not distinguished themselves.
Billy Rowell was one of the top high school bats in the 2006 draft. The Orioles took him ninth overall, and he hasn’t made it past Class A. Before Rowell, Eric Duncan went to the Yankees in 2003 and flamed out in Double-A. Corey Smith, the Indians’ 2000 first-round pick, had impressive physical tools, but he never hit enough to take advantage of them
Coming into the 2009 draft, Donovan Tate was considered the top prep outfielder in that year’s draft class. Like Trout, Tate could really run. He was projected to be a potentially plus center fielder, and the college football recruit showed the size to eventually hit for power. There were concerns however about how much projection could be thrown on Tate’s hit tool.
But Tate had a big advantage on Trout. He was from the Atlanta area.
“I think Billy Rowell played a part,” Bane said. “When you started talking about the top five to 10 guys, Mike’s name never seemed to come up. You heard Tate, (Dustin) Ackley, Strasburg, (Shelby) Miller. I hope Tate makes it. A lot of guys gave Tate more power than Mike. I didn’t see it. For me, the power was in favor of Trout. It comes down to the power and the bat, it was hard to see 22 spots of separation.”
One more factor may have pushed Trout down draft boards. His agents floated a $3.5 million price tag, a big bonus for anyone, let alone a New Jersey high school outfielder.
But the Angels weren’t worried about that. As convinced as Morhardt was that Trout was going to be a star, he was just as convinced he would sign for slot money.
“Mo said, ‘Take him, I can get him for slot,’ ” Bane said. “Without Mo, the Angels wouldn’t have gotten Trout. He put everything on the line. He really went out on a limb with Trout. He was the best guy he’s seen, so he put his heart and soul in it.”
Morhardt’s connections with the family made it a little easier to make promises. He had gone out to dinner with the Trouts a few weeks before, and his old teammate promised the Angels would be able to reach their asking price.
Looking Back: Scouting Trout
It’s not accurate to say that Mike Trout burst on the scene as a high school senior, but he did do a lot to help his draft stock that year, and it’s notable that he keeps improving as he gets older. Baseball America’s Prospects Plus has scouting reports on Trout going back to the summer before his junior year of high school, so here’s a selection of what we wrote about him before he reached pro ball:
Blue-Grey Classic, 2007
Trout is an exceptional prospect. Hard to believe he is a 2009 graduate. A righthander and shortstop who ran a 6.6-second 60-yard dash. Gets to the ball deep in the hole with ease and has a strong arm. Smooth and fluid, makes it look easy. On the mound he hits 85 mph with a fastball that had a lot of movement. Great breaking and offspeed pitches. Does equally as well with the bat. Fast hands, good power and an aggressive approach. Still maturing physically (5-foot-11, 180 lbs) has a great frame to fill out. Mike is an outstanding 2009 prospect.
East Coast Pro Showcase, 2008
Trout is an exceptional athlete with undeniable tools. He is an above-average runner and defender in center field with a strong arm. At the plate, Trout’s feet often move upon contact and he has some things to clean up in his swing. However, his athleticism makes him a high level prospect.
Draft Preview, 2009 (No. 22 overall prospect)
Trout has turned himself into a favorite of scouts in the Northeast, both for his talent and his makeup. An East Carolina commitment, he has rocketed up draft boards as a senior, thanks to an improved offensive approach. Last year, even in the fall, he had a tendency to bail out in the batter’s box, particularly against sliders. This spring he has quieted his approach and improved against breaking balls, and he’s shown the ability to hit hard line drives to all fields, though his swing still gets loopy and long at times. Halfway through the spring, Trout even began working on hitting lefthanded, and he showed some aptitude for it. Trout’s frame and skill set draws comparisons to Aaron Rowand, but he’s a faster runner—he runs the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds. He has good range and instincts in center field and plenty of arm for the position. Trout’s bat is not a sure thing, but he has a chance to be a solid-average hitter with average or better power. Like Rowand, Trout is a grinder who always plays the game hard.
“Jeff Trout is a man of his word,” Morhardt said. “He took exactly what he said he would take. Not a dime more. I know it’s hard whenever you’re dealing with money. It’s a hard situation. You have a lot of voices. But at the end of the day, they did what they said they would do. Jeff is a real high-character person. You can see that in Michael too.”
And that may have ended up being the difference. The Giants were rumored to be looking at Trout at No. 6, but they ended up taking Zack Wheeler. The Athletics had scouts who liked Trout as well, but they decided to go the safer route by picking Southern California shortstop Grant Green. The Diamondbacks were rumored to have interest. And the Yankees had Trout No. 2 on their board after he put on a show in a predraft workout at Yankee Stadium. But New York was picking 29th, and the Angels weren’t going to let him get that far.
Less than two weeks after the draft, Morhardt got another call from the Trouts. Jeff asked the Angels to get a contract written up because Mike was driving his family crazy. A baseball player needs to get onto the baseball field. Trout signed for $1.215 million—slot money—and didn’t even get the biggest bonus the Angels handed out that year. They took another high school outfielder, Randal Grichuk, one pick earlier and also gave him slot money.
Trout went to the Rookie-level Arizona League and hit .360 while being named the league’s top prospect. By the time instructional league arrived that fall, evaluators throughout the organization realized that Trout was even better than they had expected.
The rest of baseball caught up with the Angels in 2010. Trout was named the No. 1 prospect in the Midwest and California leagues, but he really popped onto the radar by recording a pair of 3.9 times from home to first in the 2010 Futures Game while also showing an excellent feel for hitting and stunning physicality. By the end of the year, he was ranked No. 2 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list.
In 2011, Trout has done nothing to reduce the now lofty expectations. He hit .326/.414/.544 for Double-A Arkansas, and he also is now contributing to the Angels’ big league club in the midst of a pennant race. As good as the Angels expected Trout to be, he’s been even better.
“Going back, (Morhardt) was probably the only guy who did have it right,” Malinoff said. “He was so over the top on Trout. The time he popped up three times, I remember telling Mo, ‘I thought he should have hit those pitches.’ Mo wouldn’t even go into the mechanics of his swing. He just said, ‘He’s a Hall of Famer.’ “
Trout still has a long way to go to reach that lofty status, but if he does, there’s an area scout who can say that he saw It coming.