Is Mike Trout among the AL's elite?

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
11:32
PM PT
Albert PujolsKirby Lee/US PresswireMike Trout, right, scored one of his four runs Tuesday, on Albert Pujols' first-inning home run.

ANAHEIM -- ESPN's Buster Olney quoted an unnamed scout last month saying of Mike Trout, "If he's not the best player in the game by the end of this season, he will be by the end of next season."

At the time, it was viewed with a fair amount of ridicule. Can a 20-year old who batted .220 in his first taste of the big leagues really reach that level that fast?

Each day that goes by, it becomes less absurd.

Trout has been a cult figure among scouts since his days at low A-ball two seasons ago, largely because of his freakish skill set. Now, the rest of America is -- or, at least, soon will be -- catching up to the exploits of the major leagues' second-youngest player.

After reaching base five times in the Angels' 12-5 win over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday and qualifying among the league leaders in batting average (he ranks second to Paul Konerko), Trout clearly is one of the most dynamic talents in baseball. If he does it for a few more months, it will be impossible to argue that he isn't among the best in the game.

"I think it's premature, but I think everyone sees the potential," manager Mike Scioscia said. "You're talking about putting a player in an elite group. I think you have to stand the test of time and do things consistently, but from when he's come up to now, you couldn't ask more of a young player. You couldn't ask more of any player.

"He's very talented, he's playing with confidence and he just wants to go play baseball and let you guys talk about him if you want."

The term "catalyst" doesn't quite do Trout's game justice. He isn't just a pesky base stealer looking to bunt or slap base hits and go from first to third on a single. He pushes and prods at an opponent's weak spots, sometimes seeming to play at a faster pace -- both physically and mentally -- than anyone else on the field.

If not for Trout's arrival at the end of April, neither Albert Pujols nor Mark Trumbo would be driving in runs at the furious pace they have been lately. Trout has scored 40 runs in 47 games, has a .397 on-base percentage and leads the league in stolen bases.

If not for Trout's arrival, this team might still be languishing. It was 6-14 before he showed up and is 31-18 since.

Every once in a while, an Angels pitcher catches a break, something that wasn't happening in April or early May. C.J. Wilson couldn't put hitters away Tuesday and, when he did, an Angels infielder often booted it. But the Angels' offense, sparked by Trout and driven by Pujols and Trumbo, made it all irrelevant. Consider it a sign of the times.

"It's just something that we're not accustomed to," Wilson said. "As starting pitchers over here, typically in our games, we score four or five runs and we're like, 'Yes,' you know? Trout was on base every time, Albert drove him in just about every time and Trumbo drove them both in."

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Mike Trout
BA HR RBI R
.290 31 97 92
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Trout 31
RBIM. Trout 97
RM. Trout 92
OPSM. Trout .934
WJ. Weaver 15
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOG. Richards 164