Harper has been all of baseball’s rage ever since he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in 2009, but right now he’s being outshined on a nightly basis by a player who is only one year his senior, and was drafted 24 slots lower than the former first overall pick.
That player is Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, a once-in-a-generation kind of talent who, at 20-years-old, is already dominating the sport in a way Harper can only hope to eventually reach.
During Monday night’s game between the Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers, Trout showed just how dangerous a player he is, and how he’s capable of impacting the game in any number of ways. In the fourth inning, the 20-year-old Trout hit a mammoth home run down the left field line and into the second deck at Dodger Stadium — one of just 20 players to reach that distance in the stadium’s history, according to Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.
In the sixth, Trout continued his one-man show, singling home Erick Aybar with two outs to tie the game at two, alertly taking second on the throw home. Finally, in the ninth inning, Trout worked a walk from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, and then showed off his lightning-quick speed by promptly stealing second. Albert Pujols did the rest, knocking home Trout with a two-out RBI single, meaning the Angels’ young star figured into every run the team scored in its 3-2 victory Monday night.
Trout and Harper have basically limitless potential, but right now the West Coaster is clearly the more advanced of the two. The way Trout is impacting the game on a nightly basis — and how the youngster has impacted the Angels’ season as a whole — cannot be understated. When the Angels called up Trout, they were off to a franchise-worst start at 6-14. Since adding him to the 25-man roster, the Halos are 27-15, playing some of the best baseball in the league.
It’s not necessarily accurate to say that Trout is a five-tool player — his throwing strength is average at best — but the rest of his tools, and his mental makeup, are absolutely off the charts. Twenty-year-olds are not supposed to show his kind of plate discipline. He can hit for average, has developing power and a body that suggests 30-plus home runs, he can field and oh boy can he run. In fact, of all Trout’s weapons, it’s his speed that turns the most heads.
In early May, Trout was clocked at 3.53 seconds from home to first base legging out a bunt. To put this in historical context, Mickey Mantle‘s 3.5 seconds is considered a gold standard — and Mantle had the advantage of starting from the left side of the batter’s box. In short, Trout is one of the fastest players to ever put on a Major League Baseball uniform, and that statement is not even remotely hyperbole.
Basically, it’s really difficult to compare Trout to players who have come before him, because the only analogs are the game’s all-time great outfielders. At the age of 19, Ken Griffey Jr. made his major league debut, hitting .264/.329/.420 in 127 games, then batting .300/.366/.481 in his first full season at the age of 20. At the same age, Willie Mays hit .274/.356/.472.
Thus far in 2012, through 40 games played, Trout finds his slash line at .354/.412/.565 to go along with 15 stolen bases and a litany of highlight-reel plays in the outfield. Once again, Trout doesn’t even turn 21 until August 7, and he’s already impacting the game like a star player right in the middle of his prime.
And it isn’t just the statistics that make Trout such a compelling player, but it’s also the way he plays the game. In this respect, Trout is very much like Harper, as both play the game with the kind of reckless abandon that feels like it’s the only thing which could prevent them from dominating the game together for the next 15 years. But barring such an injury, it’s difficult to see any scenario but Harper and Trout going down as two of baseball’s all-time greats, when all is said and done.
The kind of hype that Harper and teammate Stephen Strasburg received in their big league debuts was appropriate, vaguely akin to the attention players like Alex Rodriguez and Griffey saw when they were brought up. But despite being ranked as Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year for 2011, Trout hasn’t received the kind of fanfare as any of the above names.
Well, scream it from the mountain tops: if you’re a fan of the game of baseball, you should be tuning in to Angels games to see Trout play the way that Japanese fans tune in to see Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki daily. Highlights of Mike Trout ought to be playing on the gigantic video screens over Times Square, and his home town of Millville, New Jersey should be planning to erect a statue in his image.
This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. Mike Trout isn’t just the best player in baseball you’re not watching. He may already be, at 20 years old, the best player in baseball, period.