We are witnessing the birth of a transcendent baseball career right in front of our eyes as rookie Angel outfielder Mike Trout has electrified his team and Major League Baseball in the first half of the 2012 season. We are watching a mega-star being born. There has not been a rookie super-nova this dazzling who has entered baseball since the days of New York Yankee outfielder Mickey Mantle. Mickey Mantle. It is evocative of Robert Redford in "The Natural." The last time Southern California saw this a first season of this magnitude was when "Fernandomania" hit Dodger Stadium. Trout has reenergized the Angels and the team is playing .660 ball since he began to play regularly.
The first year of a player in any sport is traditionally a time of adjustment. The competition is so intensified in the major leagues or the NFL as compared to the minor leagues or college that the first year is filled with misadventure. The caliber of athlete the rookie encounters is daunting. It takes time to adjust to the speed of the game. Rookies tend to make more errors and misplays in baseball than they will ever do later. Baserunning can be erratic, knowledge of the pitchers is embryonic, and it is hard to see much more than a hint of how a career will play out. Hitters lack consistency and endure episodic slumps. It is a period of tutelage and development.
And then there's Mike Trout.
Trout currently leads the American League in batting with a .348 average. He also leads the American League in stolen bases with 26. He is fourth in On-Base Percentage, and fifth in OPS, which combines on-base percentage with slugging percentage. He is eighth in runs with 54. He hits leadoff and sets the table and momentum for the rest of the order. He is among the fastest players in all of baseball.
In a game last week he walked, stole second, stole third, and scored on the overthrow. He produced a run all on his own without getting a hit. Every time he gets to first base he is a danger to run, which destabilizes the opposing pitcher and rattles his delivery. His productivity sets up Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols, Kendry Morales and Mark Trumbo who follow him in order. And his fearlessness and enthusiasm are infectious and light a fire under the Angel veteran players.
His extreme speed and athleticism make him a devestating fielder and he is capable of making a circus catch on any given play. Will he cool off at some point and go through slumps? That is inevitable, but no one has stopped him yet.
He was selected to the All-Star Game. There is talk of Trout competing in the Home Run Derby in Kansas City on Monday night. This is risky. The fans love the competition and explosive swings but an altered, exaggerated swing is necessary to hit multiple home runs. Many players who excelled during the Derby had a difficult time in the second half of the season getting back to their normal swings and their statistics dropped off. Mike is capable of hitting home runs, but this tends to be a skill which develops over time. It is critical to the Angels that he continues to get on base, the rest of the lineup is power-packed.
Not only do the Angels have the prodigy Mike Trout in the All Star Game, they also have the soaring outfielder Mark Trumbo. When Albert Pujols was signed by Arte Moreno, it appeared that Mark might not have a position to play and he was not an everyday player early in the season. An experimental move to third base did not look promising. But the injuries to Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells gave Trumbo the opportunity to play every day. He has been a power hitting revelation. He currently has 20 home runs and the ball explodes off his bat. No other team has young stars of this magnitude.
If you like baseball, or the artistry of talent in any field, do not miss the charisma and youthful joy of Mike Trout in this rookie season. It may be a while before this phenomenon recurs.
Rejoice in the metamorphisis of Mark Trumbo. And get ready for what promises to be a season long struggle as the Angels try and catch the World Series champion Texas Rangers.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.
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