Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo give the Angels two homegrown starting outfielders… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
To say Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo saved the Angels' season reeks of hyperbole. We're going to go one better, though.
Trout and Trumbo revived a franchise sagging under the weight of bloated contracts, mercenary outfielders and October letdowns. If the Angels do get to their first World Series under the ownership of Arte Moreno, the day they called up Trout might be just as significant as the day they signed Albert Pujols.
Probably more so.
Until the Angels summoned Trout from the minor leagues, Pujols had no one to drive in. Until the Angels installed Trumbo in the lineup every day, Pujols had no reliable power threat behind him.
Trout did not make the team out of spring training, crowded out by veterans with guaranteed dollars. Pujols pushed Trumbo off of first base, and out of the everyday lineup.
Now Trout and Trumbo appear anchored in the Angels' outfield — now, and for the next decade.
"When guys perform like this, you let them do what they do and get out of the way," Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto said.
Pujols has driven in Trout more than any other teammate, even though Trout spotted the rest of the team a month. Trout can do it all — triple into the gap, game-winning single, over-the-shoulder catch — and that was just Friday's game.
He beats out routine ground balls to shortstop. He triples into the left-field corner — twice in two weeks. He has more home runs than cleanup hitter Kendrys Morales.
"Electric," Torii Hunter said.
Trout flashes speed, power and plate discipline, all in one top-of-the-lineup package.
"He can be a Rickey Henderson," Hunter said.
Trumbo hit home runs in four consecutive games last week. He ranks third in the American League in batting average, and he is one of four players in the league with an on-base plus slugging percentage over 1.000.
"You want to see some power on display? Come watch this guy take batting practice," Hunter said.
"It's like Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco."
This time, all natural?
"You said that," Hunter said, laughing. "I didn't."
Drop the names that Hunter did, and you might figure Trout and Trumbo were no-brainers as prospects.
In the 2009 draft, Trout went in the first round, but 24 players went before him.
"The college coaches missed too. His scholarship was to East Carolina," said Eddie Bane, the former Angels scouting director and the one who selected Trout.
Trumbo was heavily scouted, as a pitcher. Bane and the Angels took him as a slugger.
"Pitching was my passion," Trumbo said. "Hitting became my full-time job. I had a lot of work to do."
In 2007, after his first full minor league season, Baseball America all but declared his hitting a disaster and ranked him as the Angels' No. 29 prospect, behind 11 players who have not made the major leagues.
Put it this way: No organization has 29 legitimate prospects. The position player ranked directly ahead of Trumbo: outfielder Reggie Willits, who had no home runs in 844 at-bats with the Angels.
Trumbo had 39 home runs in 713 at-bats before Saturday.
He hit 29 last year, his first full season in the majors. Garret Anderson took six years to hit that many in a season. Darin Erstad never did. Yet Anderson, Erstad and Tim Salmon manned the homegrown outfield that led the Angels to their lone World Series championship a decade ago.
In the aftermath, the Angels developed pitchers and infielders aplenty, but not one impact outfielder.
So Moreno poured money at the problem. He bought Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen, Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr., Bobby Abreu and Steve Finley. Moreno also assumed the albatross that is the Vernon Wells contract.
Grand total: $350 million.
Trout and Trumbo make less than $1 million, combined. If Peter Bourjos replaces Hunter next season, the Angels could field their first all-homegrown outfield since Anderson, Erstad and Salmon, with benefits beyond the millions suddenly free to spend on pitching, catching and third base.
"It is important for the players too," Salmon said. "You come up and see your peers and develop relationships. You develop a rapport.
"That helps you play better, and it helps the team become more of a tight-knit group than when you bring in a new guy every couple of years."
Trout is 20. Trumbo is 26. This could be a good long run, although the transition might not be easy.
The Angels are 21-12 since they called up Trout, 17-10 since they last tried Trumbo at third base. They clearly are a better team without the injured Wells in the lineup, and how to manage the 21/2 years — and $53 million — remaining on his contract might be delicate.
But Trout and Trumbo are no mirage, not according to the guy who manned right field on opening day for 11 consecutive years.
"There is a difference between being good enough to get here and good enough to be a foundational group," Salmon said.
"They have staying power. You can build your team around them, year in and year out."
Angels fans might drink to that. Trout might too, but he does not turn 21 until August. Cheers indeed.