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Commentary: In Mike Trout, Angels may have the ultimate Big Fish

At least one seasoned observer proclaims Mike Trout to be the best, most exciting prospect in team's 51-year history. Of course nothing is guaranteed, but no Angel's future has ever looked so bright.

June 03, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Angels outfielder Mike Trout has been labeled a can't-miss kid, and so far the results are positive.
Angels outfielder Mike Trout has been labeled a can't-miss kid, and… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )

It hit me last week as Mike Trout was turning a stand-up double into a head-first-slide triple against the New York Yankees, that we are looking at the most mesmerizing prospect in the Angels' 51-year history.

Mind you, I've only been following the team since 1966.

Ross Newhan, a semiretired Hall of Fame baseball columnist, has been chronicling the team since its 1961 inception.

"I don't remember one," Newhan responded when I asked if he could remember a brighter young Halo.

Without question, uprooting Trout from the minors when he was hitting .403 was a severe blow to the farm. "Loss of Mike Trout to Angels will challenge the Salt Lake Bees," the Deseret News declared after Trout's April 27 promotion.

Somehow, the Bees must soldier on.

The only baseball mystery pertaining to Trout — who physically looks like he fell off the Mickey Mantle rack at your local baseball emporium — is why the Angels sent him to Salt Lake when they broke spring training camp and left him there until their record was 6-14.

I know, I know, too much Bobby Abreu/Vernon Wells money on the books — the very worst excuse for being in last place.

My Angels-fan son, panicked during the team's horrible April, texted me an SOS from his college dorm room.

My texted response: "Bring Trout up now, make [Scott] Downs closer."

Gee, and wasn't it almost that simple?

It's easy in the ESPN era to get caught in the maelstrom of hyperbole. The Worldwide Leader has been going so gonzo over Washington Nationals rookie Bryce Harper, a 19-year-old phenom, you wondered if Trout even had his MLB learner's permit.

Meanwhile, some of us who saw Trout come up last year as a 19-year-old wondered: What does Harper have that Trout doesn't?

It's going to be a 15-year hoot watching Harper versus Trout on parallel career tracks, and my house IPO money is on Trout.

I'm typically a red-cloth conservative when it comes to hype. I still think the Internet might be a fad. But in Mike Trout you could argue there has never been an Angel this good, this young, with so much upside, in the everyday starting lineup.

Let's pray the brain trust didn't raise this farm-fed gem to win the American League batting title for the Red Sox (See: Carney Lansford, 1981).

There's a lot of comparative history to dissect here, so let's get on with it.

Jim Fregosi, the Angels' original whiz kid, was 19 when he batted .222 in 27 at-bats for the inaugural 1961 team. Fregosi was an expansion pick from Boston. His second year, at age 20, he hit .291 with three home runs and 23 runs batted in.

Trout, who is now 20, figures to obliterate Fregosi's second-year numbers. Heading into this weekend's series against the Texas Rangers, Trout was batting .303 with five home runs and 16 RBIs.

Rick Reichardt was the Angels' first "bonus baby," signing for a then-record bonus of $200,000 and cracking the lineup in 1964 at age 21. But Reichardt never fulfilled his potential in an 11-year career.

I remember saying "Wow!" when Mickey Rivers, age 21, came up in 1970. Rivers, obtained in a 1969 trade from Atlanta, was faster than a bug. The Angels, though, apparently felt bad that the Yankees hadn't won the World Series in more than a decade and traded Rivers to the Bronx Bombers.

I thought 20-year-old outfielder Thad Bosley was a keeper when he hit .297 in 1977. By age 21, Bosley was with the Chicago White Sox.

None of yesteryear's up-and-comer Angels had Trout's upside, though. And they were never this good, this young.

Darin Erstad, the first pick of the 1995 draft, was already 22 when he came of Angels age in 1996.

Tim Salmon, the all-time Angel, batted .177 in 79 at bats at age 23 in 1992.

Note that Wally Joyner was 24 when he broke through in 1986. Devon White, 22, hit .143 in 1985. Jim Edmonds was 23 when he arrived in '93. Garret Anderson, 22, had 13 at bats in '94. The numbers on 21-year-old Troy Glaus in 1998: one home run, 23 RBIs, .218 batting average.

Lansford, a third-round pick in 1975, was a player everybody but the Angels front office knew was "can't miss."

Lansford was 21 in 1978 when he hit .294 with eight homers and 52 RBIs. The Angels, in 1980, shipped him to Boston as part of the epic Rick Burleson/Butch Hobson trade.

The next season, Lansford won the American League batting crown with a .336 average.

Most exciting about Trout is thinking outside the Angels franchise box to wonder whether we're getting an early glimpse at a generational player.

Is this what Detroit fans saw in Al Kaline who, at age 20, won the AL batting crown in 1955?

Robin Yount, out of Woodland Hills Taft High, was 18 when he got the call-up by Milwaukee in 1974. He spent the next 20 years there en route to the Hall of Fame.

Kaline and Yount spent their entire careers with the same team. Outside of your occasional Derek Jeter, that doesn't happen much in modern times.

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