Time to start paying attention to Mike Trout

May, 16, 2012
5/16/12
12:25
AM ET


Forget Albert Pujols. There's another reason to watch the Los Angeles Angels, and his name is Mike Trout.

For all the hype Bryce Harper has rightfully received, it's time to start giving a few headlines to another rookie phenom, time to give the Left Coast a little love. Trout went 3-for-4 with a home run, a stolen base and three runs scored in the Angels' 4-0 victory over the A's on Tuesday. In 15 games since getting recalled from Triple-A, Trout is hitting .316 BA/.369 OBP/.561 SLG, reminding Angels fans what an All-Star batting line is supposed to look like and why a homegrown, five-tool rookie with young, fresh legs is a player to get more pumped about watching than a money-for-hire Hall of Famer you purchased on the free-agent market.

So while we wait for Pujols to get untracked, maybe the Angels' answer to their offensive prayers -- they've been shut out an MLB-leading eight times -- is a kid who doesn't turn 21 until August.

Against Bartolo Colon, he took a middle-in fastball and crushed it just to the right of center field, off the back wall behind the center-field fence in Anaheim. There aren't many leadoff hitters who can mash a pitch with that type of authority. The other day, he showcased his quick, compact swing, yanking a 2-1 fastball from Yu Darvish well over the left-field fence in Texas. His first home run came on a 1-0 fastball off Toronto's Kyle Drabek, a 93 mph heater low in the zone that Trout hit to left-center.

I think those returns are pretty clear: Trout can do some serious damage when he gets into a fastball count.

Trout is even faster than Harper and much more advanced defensively (although he lacks Harper's arm). And for all the awe for Harper's quick rise, Trout is only a year older. Like Harper, he debuted in the majors while still 19 years old. Like the previous two 19-year-old center-field phenoms -- a couple of guys named Andruw Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. -- Trout has that broad range of skills that should make him a franchise player as he matures.

My favorite aspect of the Trout/Harper comparisons is that the two will always be linked, even though they play in different leagues and cities three time zones apart. Just like we debated Rodriguez and Jeter and Garciaparra back in the late '90s, or like New Yorkers debated Mays and Mantle and Snider in the 1950s, I'm sure we'll be endlessly debating Trout and Harper for years to come.

The other highly rated prospects entering the season were Tampa Bay Rays lefty Matt Moore and Mariners catcher/designed hitter Jesus Montero. They aren't off to impressive starts like Trout and Harper, but let's take a closer look at them as well.

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
I'll make this one brief. We've seen Harper's lightning-quick bat speed and raw power with his home runs in back-to-back games -- one blast to dead center and the one Tuesday to deep right-center. We've also seen a few misplays in the field, however, from losing a ball in the darkened skies Sunday to dropping a fly ball Monday.

And of course, we've seen the rocket arm and the top-grade athleticism. There's no reason to believe he can't be a superb fielder with more experience. I think the biggest positive is his strikeout rate hasn't been excessive, with 11 in 60 at-bats. Along with his ability to hit left-handers, that was the big concern of his premature call-up. While there were initial thoughts that his time in the majors would be temporary, his play and the Nationals' injuries mean he's here to stay.

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays
When I polled the SweetSpot network bloggers before the season for their American League rookie of the year predictions, Moore came out on top, outpointing Darvish. I wasn't quite as optimistic, as I believed Moore's spectacular playoff performance against the Rangers raised expectations to unrealistic levels. The only rookie starter since 2000 to pitch at least 162 innings with an ERA less than 3.00 was Jeremy Hellickson, and his flukey .224 average on balls in play had something to do with that. With Moore, I still wanted to see a guy who had the consistent command needed to dominate in the majors.

That's been a big issue with him so far, as he's walked 22 batters in 39 innings, a rate of 5.1 walks per nine. As Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Info points out, Moore also has struggled with runners on base:


Justin also writes that Moore "continues to leave entirely too many balls up in the zone, ranking sixth out of 115 pitchers in percentage of total pitches 'up' in the zone." This ties into Moore having the third-highest walk rate (12.4 percent) among starters, behind only Ubaldo Jimenez and Drabek, and six home runs allowed in seven starts.

There are no major issues here, other than pointing out that most young pitchers do go through a learning curve. Hellickson -- who doesn't have the raw stuff Moore owns -- set the bar high with his own rookie campaign, but that type of season is the exception.

Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
It's also a mixed bag so far with Montero. With five home runs, he's displayed the power stroke scouts projected. His overall batting line of .256/.285/.411, however, isn't much to get excited about, as the occasional long ball is marred by a poor 29/6 strikeout/walk ratio.

There are a few things going on here. He has expanded the strike zone, swinging at 36.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. That's not necessarily a career-killing attribute (Josh Hamilton currently has the second-highest rate in the majors), but it's among the 30 worst percentages so far. The bigger problem is he isn't making contract on those pitches and certainly not good contact. He's swinging and missing at those pitches 56.6 percent of the time, which again places him among the 30 worst rates.

When you dig deeper into the numbers, it's pretty clear what's happening. Check out the heat maps below. On the left, Montero against "hard" stuff, and on the right, Montero against "soft" stuff.

Jesus MonteroESPN Stats & InformationMontero has been hitting the hard stuff (left), but struggling against offspeed pitches.


Against "hard" stuff, he's hitting .362 (25-for-69) with four home runs and five doubles. Against "soft" stuff, he's hitting .133 (8-for-60) with one home run and no doubles. So if pitchers get ahead in the count, they can get Montero to chase the offspeed stuff out of the zone.

A final issue is Montero's ability -- or lack of it -- to pull the ball. While he's known for his opposite-field power, I'm not sure you can live off that trait alone. Of Montero's five home runs, two have gone to right-center, one to center and two to left-center. His hit chart is littered with fly balls to right field and the right-field line. Frankly, he just hasn't shown the ability to pull the ball with any authority. To me, this reads like a guy who can be jammed inside and will chase pitches outside. Look, the pitch recognition should improve, but he's going to have to figure out how to do more damage to all fields.

The injury to Miguel Olivo also forced the Mariners to play Montero more regularly behind the plate. I haven't seen the defensive butcher advertised, but he's clearly a work in progress. A couple of starts ago, Kevin Millwood was constantly shaking him off. However, the two were on the same page in Millwood's win over the Yankees on Sunday. Opponents are 8-for-10 stealing bases off him.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Asdrubal CabreraHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesFred Astaire might have been light on his feet, but could he do what Asdrubal Cabrera has to?

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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