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Angels' Mark Trumbo accepts new role with open mind

Although the runner-up for American League rookie of the year last season, he has been forced out of first base because of the team's acquisition of Albert Pujols, but looks at learning to play third base as a challenge.

February 25, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Mark Trumbo, shown during spring training last year, has been pushed into a utility role in which he'll probably be fighting for at-bats at first base, third base, designated hitter and right field.
Mark Trumbo, shown during spring training last year, has been pushed into… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. -- Dec. 8 was a day of celebration for the Angels. That's when they signed first baseman Albert Pujols, considered one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.

Mark Trumbo Appreciation Day, it wasn't.

The Pujols signing could alter the course of the Angels franchise, but it was also a game-changer for Trumbo — and not necessarily for the better.

Trumbo, 26, emerged as one of the game's most promising young power hitters last season, replacing injured first baseman Kendrys Morales and hitting .254 with a team-leading 29 home runs — several of them prodigious blasts that traveled more than 450 feet — and 87 runs batted in.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Trumbo played solid defense and finished second in American League rookie-of-the-year voting, his only blemish a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio (120 to 25) that led to an unsightly .291 on-base percentage.

And what was Trumbo's reward? The Angels locked up a superstar at his position for 10 years and pushed him to a utility role in which he'll probably be fighting for at-bats at first base, third base, designated hitter and right field.

It was the kind of jolt that could mess with a young player's head, shake his confidence, make him question his faith in the organization that invested so much time and money into getting him to the big leagues. Trumbo signed for $1.425 million out of Villa Park High in 2004.

Trumbo, who spent the off-season recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot, is trying to ignore those voices and embrace the challenge.

"Honestly, I was happy" about the Pujols signing, Trumbo said. "I know it directly affects me, but I also enjoy the opportunity for a little change of scenery. For me, it's all about getting at-bats. I don't have a defensive preference. As long as I'm in the lineup, that's fine with me."

Trumbo's response impressed Jerry Dipoto, the team's new general manager.

"He's handled it incredibly well," Dipoto said. "I've been told about Mark's makeup, his professionalism, his work ethic. He's a team player; he wants to contribute. I think he's an asset to the club, to the organization."

Trumbo's grasp of the broader picture helps him cope with the upheaval. He knows Pujols is the kind of impact bat the Angels need to win the World Series.

He also knows right fielder Torii Hunter will be 37 with a contract that expires in October, and outfielder Bobby Abreu, who has issued a play-me-or-trade-me demand before arriving in camp, could be gone by April.

There is a good chance that in 2013 or 2014, Trumbo will be starting in right field, with Peter Bourjos in center and Mike Trout or Vernon Wells in left. Add Pujols, Morales and Howie Kendrick, and the Angels have the makings of a superb lineup.

"I've always had a hard time projecting big-picture things, but this situation now could be completely different in a year, in a month," Trumbo said. "I just have to take care of my part."

Trumbo is getting acclimated to third base, a position he'll get a crash course in once he's cleared to resume full baseball activities next week.

He has spent the early days in camp fielding grounders right at him and throwing to first and second. He clearly has the arm strength and quick release to play third and has shown good first-step quickness, but there is so much more to the position.

"He's getting after it, asking intelligent questions, fielding and throwing well," bench coach Rob Picciolo said. "But it's much too early to tell. There will be growing pains."

[Updated at 3:15 p.m. Friday:

One came Friday morning when Trumbo took a bad-hop grounder to the nose, the impact causing severe bleeding and cutting his workout short. But the injury is not thought to be serious, and Trumbo expects to be back on the field Saturday.

The biggest challenges at third will be fielding bunts and slow rollers, getting up after a diving stop and throwing across the diamond, making off-balance, sidearm throws to second.]

"Those plays are hard to simulate in practice," Picciolo said. "Game situations will be the best teacher."

The Angels tried Trumbo at third after he signed, sending him to instructional league in 2005 in hopes of turning him into another Troy Glaus, the former Angels slugger who was a solid third baseman despite his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame. It didn't work.

"I just didn't know anything about playing infield," Trumbo said. "I tried to field everything with two hands, which I now know is not right. I didn't know how to create hops with my feet, which I've learned to do over the years.

"That changes everything, especially those in-between hops I was always battling, knocking down, scrambling to pick them up. When you field the ball cleanly, it makes a world of difference."

Whether Trumbo is athletic enough to play 40 to 50 games at third base, a move that would allow the Angels to pack the powerful Pujols, Morales and Trumbo in the same lineup, remains to be seen.

But Trumbo appears better equipped for the position and willing to accept his new, potentially nomadic, existence.

"I'm going to need to be flexible and quicker with my adjustments if I'm bouncing around between first, third, the outfield and DH," Trumbo said. "There are nuances to each position."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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