Image credit: (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
In the midst of a strong senior season, outfielder Mike Trout looks like he could be headed toward a first-round selection in June’s draft. His path toward becoming an elite prospect hasn’t always been smooth, though–and it didn’t even start out in the outfield.
Now 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Trout has risen to the top of the high school draft class thanks to his premium blend of speed, athleticism and makeup. Scouts regard him as a legitimate center fielder and love the way he prays the game. And it was Trout’s strength of character that got him through his first real obstacle as a baseball player.
Roy Hallenbeck is the head coach at Millville (N.J.) High. He always knew Trout had exceptional ability from the time he set foot on campus, though Trout was a shortstop and righthander as a youth player. Heading into the 2006 baseball season—Trout’s freshman year of high school—Hallenbeck had a hole on the varsity squad and called on Trout to fill it.
“He was a shortstop his whole life,” Hallenbeck said. “We asked him to move over to second base because that’s where we had a hole and we had a really good returning shortstop. His ability was always there, but for whatever reason early in the season he wasn’t able to settle down.”
Hallenbeck and the assistant coaches tried to get Trout to relax. But his throws were sailing into the woods surrounding Millville’s field, and things just weren’t clicking. Eventually, Hallenbeck decided on a more laissez-faire approach.
“Finally I just told my coaching staff to not talk to him anymore,” he said. “Just leave him be. Let’s let him go out and practice for a few days. We’re just going to leave him alone and see if he can settle down a little bit.”
Trout knew the consequences, though. If his results didn’t improve, the coaching staff was going to send him down to junior varsity. Trout remembers the situation well.
“I was real nervous,” he said. “I was doing everything I could to get a varsity uniform. Coach told me, ‘You’ve got a couple games left and if you don’t improve, you’re going down.’ “So I had to step up a little bit. It was a great experience.”
Center Of Attention
Trout has spent every day on varsity since then. He pulled himself-together and put up a solid freshman season as his team went to the state playoffs. In 80 at-bats, Trout hit .338/.446/.513 with 23 RBIs and 31 runs. He was also perfect in 14 stolen base attempts. In his next two seasons, Trout continued to grow as a prospect. He hit .457 as a sophomore and .557 as a junior while throwing up ridiculous strikeout numbers as a pitcher and swiping 37 bases in two seasons. He was a second-team High School All-American coming into the season and has done nothing to dent those expectations, batting .489 this season with 12 stolen bases.
But the numbers aren’t what attract scouts to games. Trout is hard-nosed and aggres-sive on the field, leading to Aaron Rowand Comparisons, though he has more speed than Rowand.
“He’s the complete package,” an American League scout said. “He shows all five tools. He has plus makeup. And he has 70 speed (on the 20-80 scouting scale).”
Trout himself prefers another player to emulate: Grady Sizemore. And though he is a natural righthanded hitter, he has even worked on batting lefthanded this season, as Sizemore does. “He loves to run,” Trout said. “He loves to play the game right and has fun. That’s important.”
It’s no accident that the players Trout gets compared to are center fielders. He moved to that position last summer, which Hallenbeck had regarded as inevitable. Despite his success on the mound and at shortstop, Trout’s physical and mental tools are perfect for center field.
“He’s just an explosive player,” Hallenbeck said. “The speed and power is something we don’t see at this level.”
“What’s ironic about his evolution through high school is that he came on to the map, so to speak, as a pitcher first. Last year this time we were talking about colleges. Papers were calling and asking, ‘Where are you going to pitch in college?’ We said he’s not going to pitch in college. We knew he was going to go someplace and play center field. His speed and athleticism was too great.”
It hadn’t taken a move to center field to get colleges interested. He had offers from schools across the country before committing to East Carolina.
“I like the coaches,” Trout said. “Coach Godwin recruited me since I was a sophomore. He’s a great guy. East Carolina just stood out. They really wanted me. I thought it was the right choice.”
Trout’s next big choice will come between college and pro ball, but if he goes as early as expected in the draft, the bonus money will probably make that choice an easy one.
Makeup To Match His Tools
It’s no accident that Trout has instincts seldom seen in a prep player. His father, Jeff, is a former professional. A second baseman at the University of Delaware, the elder Trout was selected by the Twins in the fifth round of the 1983 draft. He played four seasons in the minors, seeing time at second and third. However, he won’t take credit for his success on the field.
“He’s a great kid,” Jeff Trout said. “He’s a great player but he’s a better person. That’s always been our goal as parents to raise kids that are good people and let their natural talents take them wherever. It’s been so much fun watching Mike. He’s so much better than I was. He’s so much more athletic and competitive. We haven’t really had to do a whole lot with him. Just encourage him.”
Trout’s mentality has also allowed him to stay focused in a season that has frustrated many in the industry. Weather on the East Coast has been less than stellar. Storms have flooded many fields and postponed about a dozen of Millville’s games. But hard work, both from Trout, his family and coaches, have assured that scouts have gotten plenty of looks at him. When games have been washed out, Trout has arranged workouts for individuals or groups of scouts.
Trout said he and his teammates have used all the challenges of this season—from the weather to the constant attention from scouts—as motivation.
“It’s making our team better,” Trout said. “These rain dates, you can’t do anything about them. The scouts thing is making me and the team play better. We want to show them what we’ve got.”
Trout continues to show a team-first mentality in all he does. Though he’s one of the best high school baseball players in the nation, you wouldn’t guess it if you bumped into him off the field. His personality is grounded. He acts like any other high school kid that has to worry about prom, homework and video games.
“He’s concerned about what’s going on right now,” Hallenbeck said. “Day to day, it’s all current stuff. It’s what’s going on with our program. His mindset is no different than anybody else on the team, which I think makes this process a whole lot easier.”
Credit his father’s professional advice to that mindset. “Be a team player,” he said he has told his son. “In the game of baseball you can’t be self-conscious. You’re isolated on the field whether you’re at the plate or on defense. If you make a mistake all eyes are on you. You’ve got to let it go. Mike has been very good about that. Good days or bad days he’s always the same kid.”
All this attention could unsettle even the toughest of high school athletes, as well as teammates. Trout has handled it with maturity beyond his years, and Hallenbeck said his team has handled it well too. They respect the fact that their center fielder may get an extra round of batting practice on occasion. No one seems to mind, though they may rib him about it off the field. “They’re cool, until we get in the locker room and they start jumping me,” Trout laughed. “it’s been a great experience for them as well.