Mike Trout was selected to play in the All-Star Futures game last season… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — It wasn't enough for Mike Trout to be rated the top prospect in all of baseball, above even Bryce Harper, the power-hitting prodigy who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before he got $9.9 million to sign with the Washington Nationals in August.
No, one scout had to take it a step further, telling Baseball America last summer that comparisons between Trout, a 19-year-old center fielder in the Angels' minor league system, and Mickey Mantle "are actually pretty good."
Great, thought Abe Flores, the Angels' player development director. Just what the young man needs. Trout hasn't played a game above Class A, and already he is keeping company with one of the greatest center fielders in baseball history?
"I wish everyone would just take a deep breath here," Flores said, sizing up Trout's rapid rise from his place as a late first-round pick in 2009. "There's been a lot of momentum around him, but everyone should keep their feet on the ground.
"I'm trying to quash people who are losing their minds comparing this kid to someone in the major leagues."
It's not that Flores isn't extremely high on Trout —he is — but Brandon Wood was considered one of baseball's top prospects for years, and the third baseman flopped in his first full big league season, batting .146 in 2010.
Should Angels fans be a little skeptical about Trout too? Not if reviews of the 6-foot-2, 217-pounder with blazing speed, excellent outfield instincts, advanced plate discipline, power potential and solid mental makeup are to be believed.
"I haven't talked to anyone who's seen Trout who hasn't raved about him," said Jim Callis, an editor at Baseball America, one of the sport's authorities on minor league prospects. "One scout I talked to said Trout was the favorite prospect he's ever scouted.
"Another told me he saw him hit a 400-foot home run, and in his next at-bat, he dropped a bunt and got to first in 3.65 seconds. Four seconds is top speed for a major leaguer."
Baseball America is to publish its annual top 100 prospect list Wednesday. Callis has Trout at No. 1 and Harper at No. 2. Two other editors have Harper at No. 1 and Trout at No. 2.
Trout was rated baseball's top overall prospect in January by ESPN.com, AOL FanHouse and MLB.com.
Pretty heady stuff for a player with all of 175 minor league games as experience, who won't be 20 until Aug. 7, and who joined the Angels for his first big league camp workout Saturday.
Not that it has gone to his head.
"I really don't look into that stuff," Trout said upon arriving at camp Friday. "It's a high compliment, but that stuff doesn't mean anything unless you get to the big leagues."
With his crew cut, blond hair, square jaw and stout build, Trout does bear a striking physical resemblance to a young Mantle. But the expectations of being a Mantle-type player would be a burden on any prospect.
"There's always going to be pressure wherever you go," Trout said. "It's something you thrive on. You know you have to put up some good numbers and do well."
Flores said Trout has a "very unique skill set," headed by explosive speed. Trout is graded an 80 runner on the 20-to-80 scale used by scouts.
"I think Mike is faster than Peter Bourjos," Flores said, referring to the Angels center fielder. "I'd really love to see that footrace, but if someone got hurt I'd die."
About the only knock on Trout has to do with his throwing arm, which is below average by major league standards.
Trout wasn't even the Angels' top pick in the 2009 draft; the team chose high school outfielder Randal Grichuk with the 24th pick and Trout, a star at Millville (N.J.) High, at No. 25.
"It's still beyond me that we were able to get him that far down," said Angels scouting director Ric Wilson, a national cross-checker in 2009. "We were all surprised he was there for us."
The Angels' area scout, Greg Morhardt, a minor league teammate of Trout's father, Jeff, had his hooks in Trout for months and pushed him hard to Eddie Bane, the team's former scouting director.
Word before the draft that Trout was seeking a $2.5-million signing bonus might have scared off some teams. But the Angels, who got quite a catch when they drafted outfielder Tim Salmon in 1989, picked Trout and signed him for $1.215 million, his slot value.
Trout had an impressive professional debut in 2009, hitting .352 with a .419 on-base percentage in 44 games in the Arizona Rookie League and with Class-A Cedar Rapids.
Then he soared up the prospect charts in 2010, hitting .341 with a .428 on-base percentage, 10 home runs, nine triples, 28 doubles, 58 runs batted in, 56 stolen bases, 73 walks and only 85 strikeouts in 131 games at Cedar Rapids and Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.
Trout also had impressive showings in the All-Star Futures Game in July and for Team USA at a Pan Am Games qualifier in Puerto Rico in October.
"He was a first-round pick, a recognized talent," Flores said, "but I don't think anyone expected that."