Shortly after the Angels signed Albert Pujols, the focus began to turn to the logjam that move created. Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales lost their positions and Bobby Abreu may have lost a job.
But the most intriguing player lost in the shuffle, at least for now, is the team’s top prospect, Mike Trout. With Trumbo and Abreu perhaps doing a little spot duty in the outfield and because he’s still only 20 years old, the most likely landing spot for Trout on Opening Day might be Triple-A Salt Lake.
Will that give the Angels their best 25-man roster? Is it the best scenario for Trout’s continued development?
We may have gotten a clue to the Angels' intentions when they had Trout play all three outfield positions in the Arizona Fall League. An injury to any of the Angels’ outfielders -- and two of them are age 33 or older -- would create Trout’s opportunity. With Torii Hunter hitting free agency next fall, Trout could slide into either right or left field alongside Peter Bourjos on an everyday basis.
Or, if Vernon Wells continues his downward spiral, perhaps Trout could supplant the veteran in left field? Would the Angels be willing to bench a player making $21 million (and signed through 2014)? For now, Trout’s caught in limbo.
“You always want to be up all year, but sometimes it’s got to be the right time and the right spot,” Trout told Angels broadcaster Terry Smith in a recent interview on KLAA 830. “I’m just going into spring training trying to get hot, swing the bat pretty well and see where they put me.”
Trout retains his rookie status after taking 135 plate appearances for the Angels in 2011. His first taste of the major leagues (at 19 years old) produced some bad things (.220 batting average, 30 strikeouts) and some good things (five home runs, strong outfield play). Nothing about it seemed definitive. All the prospect rankings still list Trout, who has elite speed and an advanced hitting approach, as one of the top five emerging players in the game.
Two stints in Anaheim should make Trout more comfortable there moving forward. Then again, his next at-bat at Triple-A would be his first, as Trout’s only other games were played at Double-A Arkansas last season. This seems like a crucial moment in talented young player’s development.
“My first at-bat, I thought I was playing a video game,” Trout told Smith. “I had to step out, take a deep breath. After that first at-bat, I kind of felt all right. My first spin up there, I didn’t do what I wanted to do. It was definitely a harder challenge than I’ve ever faced in my life.
“That was tough, but once I got sent down, I took advantage of my at-bats down there, wanted to put up good numbers. I was fortunate to get called back up and I kind of knew what to expect.”
In his next opportunity, Trout will be under pressure to dig his feet into the ground in the major leagues. The only question, for now, is when he’ll get the chance.