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Thursday, June 21, 2012
Mark Trumbo, the Angels' shadow MVP

By Mark Saxon

Trumbo
Mark Trumbo is hitting .324 with 17 HRs while maintaining a .378 on-base percentage.


ANAHEIM -- The narratives going around for how the Los Angeles Angels went from being one of the most expensive flops in baseball history on May 1 to one of the hottest teams in the game by the summer solstice fall into a few categories.

No. 1, Mike Trout arrived and sent a jolt of electricity through the team, then kept running around to continue to power the generator.

No. 2, Albert Pujols woke up one May morning, scratched his head and thought, “Wait a minute, I’m Albert Pujols!”

No. 3, Ernesto Frieri showed up and revolutionized the way Angels manager Mike Scioscia could deploy his bullpen, making all that good starting pitching finally stand up.

Eventually, after a couple other theories are posed, the name Mark Trumbo will come up, probably. Remember that guy, the one who was keeping this team from sinking when it was bad, helping lift it when it’s good, the only steady run producer in the room from Opening Day to now, an MVP candidate not just in the room, but in the league?

Shouldn’t we mention him some time in here? Snub seems to be this guy’s middle name, but it’s actually Daniel.

“I think I’ve always flown under the radar. It’s part of what I do,” Trumbo said. “As far as I’m concerned, what those guys are doing is amazing. I don’t mind.”

Normally, players who can hit the ball out of one of the biggest stadiums in baseball are adored, put on posters, followed around by paparazzi. Their blasts appear on Baseball Tonight. Children scream their names. It’s the scrappy guys who get ignored. Trumbo has had this weird knack throughout his career of hitting tape-measure home runs to faint praise. Unlike Trout, who barely brushed each level of the minor leagues before showing up in the majors at 19, Trumbo trudged steadily along for six years, about as long as it takes a doctor to get his or her license.

Before the 2010 season, Trumbo, 26, didn’t crack Baseball America’s list of the 10 Angels prospects. Pitcher Trevor Reckling, who has since been released, did. Going into last season, after he had batted .301 with 36 home runs at Triple-A, Trumbo was ninth behind the following players: Tyler Chatwood, Kaleb Cowart and Fabio Martinez. Seen much from those guys lately?

Don’t think Trumbo hasn’t taken notes, stockpiling a list of grudges he can settle, one massive swing at a time.

“It just seems like if you’re playing in Little Rock, Arkansas, for instance and some guy in New York ‘s taking pot shots at you that’s never actually seen you play on baseball field, it’s hard to accept that at times,” Trumbo said.

Even after he finished second to Jeremy Hellickson in rookie of the year balloting last year, people seemed to discount Trumbo’s feats. As a rookie, he led the Angels with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs. That had never before happened.

The Sports Illustrated preview of the Angels this spring opined that Trumbo, “was a better story than he is a ballplayer. Making the defense worse to get his low OBP and power into the lineup is counter-productive.”

And yet, somehow, it has worked out pretty well. Trumbo not only is fourth in the league with a .324 batting average, tied for eighth in the AL with 17 home runs and tied for sixth with 48 RBIs, his .378 on-base percentage is borderline great.

The interesting thing about Trumbo is this: He doesn’t just stew over criticisms, he learns from them. When people wrote that he needed to improve his OBP, he agreed. Then, he did something about it, reminding himself all winter that he had to avoid swinging at breaking pitches away, using his spring training at bats to track pitches.

Peter Bourjos has seen Trumbo make those kinds of adjustments before, all through the minor leagues. When pitchers got something on him, he learned to take it away.

“He’s done this throughout every full season I’ve played with him. Every year, he’s gotten better,” Bourjos said. “This year he’s really locked in and staying within himself, where I really think he’s going to maintain this the whole year. It’s fun to watch.”

But the really fun thing to watch is Trumbo taking batting practice. At Dodger Stadium last week, he hit a soaring shot down the left-field line that, according to Angels pitchers who watched it fly over their heads, bounced off a sun shade and went careening out of the stadium.

“I don’t know how far it was, but it was a mammo shot,” reliever Jordan Walden said. “When Mark gets a hold of one, it goes a long way. A long way.”

Maybe the rest of the country can get a look at that in a few weeks at the Home Run Derby at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, one day before the All-Star game. If Trumbo isn’t in Kansas City – and he’s getting virtually no votes since he’s on the ballot as a third baseman and hasn’t played there since May 3 – there should be a Congressional investigation.

“We have a lot of guys on our team who are having the seasons to be All-Star candidates and I’m sure we’re going to be well-represented there,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “There’s no doubt that Mark’s leading the charge. There are not many guys in our league doing what Mark has done.”

Maybe if Trumbo does make the AL squad and distinguishes himself there, he’ll start getting the credit the national media has always withheld. He’s not holding his breath for any of it.

“I don’t know, I’ll just be myself and soak in the experience, but once again, I don’t expect it,” Trumbo said. “A major-league All-Star? That’s something you dream about as a kid.”