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|The Angels picked up Mike Trout with the 25th pick in the draft two years ago.|
The Travs, as they're called here, take batting practice more than two hours before game time, in an empty stadium, rap music pumping. If you want to talk to someone who sees Trout play every day, you have to wait until it's over, walk up the staircase, down the concourse and through a green metal door into the Arkansas clubhouse."I can't tell people what I really think because they think I'm insane," Arkansas manager Bill Mosiello said from behind his desk. "Now, they're probably saying, 'You were right.'" Scouts send Mosiello texts about Trout all the time. Here's one he got last season, when he managed him at Single-A Cedar Rapids, just a few months after Trout graduated from Millville High outside Philadelphia: Maybe this is what Mickey Mantle looked like at 18. One said: My only prototype for him is Rickey Henderson. Another said: I've been doing this 40 years. I've never seen a kid doing what he's doing. The other night, two American League scouts were swapping information about Texas League players. One of them, who had just pulled into town, asked the other to describe Trout's speed. The other guy didn't say a word. He just got this canary-eating grin on his face and slowly traced the Nos. 8 and 0 in the air with his index finger. In the parlance of scouts, 80 is the top of the scale. One scout timed Trout getting from home to first base in 3.75 seconds. All of Trout's times, assuming he doesn't stumble, fall in the 3.87-to-4.1 range. Ichiro Suzuki, all 5-foot-11, 170 pounds of him, who is off and running before contact out of the left side of the batter's box, usually covers that distance in about 3.85 seconds. Trout is 6-2 and 220 pounds. He hits right-handed. "The only thing you ask is, 'Is he an All-Star? Is he a perennial All-Star?'" one scout said. "He's as good as they come," said another. Perhaps, in the interests of balance, we should get this out of the way immediately: Trout is not the perfect baseball-playing machine. He's a mediocre base-stealer for his speed, his arm isn't a weapon and some doubt he'll hit the ball with enough lift to be a big-time slugger in the majors. When he hits home runs, they tend to be rising line drives, more like the trajectory of a Ryan Braun home run than a Prince Fielder blast. He takes too many first-pitch strikes for some people's tastes, often hitting behind in the count. But those minor frailties, plus his age, might be the only things keeping Trout from major league stardom right now. "He's like a man among boys," one of the scouts said. "You'd expect that in high school, not at Double-A."
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In the third inning of a recent game, he got a hanging breaking ball from a Springfield Cardinals right-hander and lined it into the left-center-field gap. The center fielder, a kid named Alex Castellanos, made a good backhand stop to cut it off. By the time the relay throw reached third, Trout was pulling in standing up. There might not be another baseball player on the planet who could have gotten there that quickly. Very few would have tried.
"If it's a single, I think double," Trout said. "If it's a double, I think triple."
You know you're in Arkansas because you can get deer dogs, sold by a guy in a camouflage hat. You know you're at a minor league game because they have a rubber chicken-tossing contest before the top of the fourth.May 22 is Hank Conger bobblehead doll night. June 10 is Peter Bourjos T-shirt jersey night. Trout is sharing a three-bedroom house with teammates Garrett Richards, Trevor Reckling and Dillon Baird. They're paying $900 a month for a three-bedroom house 20 minutes from the stadium. Baird has to crash on the couch in the living room. Every day while the team is at home, Trout eats lunch at Benihana, then drives his pickup truck 20 minutes to the ballpark. He might stand out on the field, but they say he blends right in with the guys, most of whom are four or five years older. If he's feeling the pressure of being one of the most-hyped young players in baseball, you can't tell. "I remember when I was 19, not a care in the world," said Arkansas reliever Danny Sattler, 27. "He's always coming to the ballpark with good energy."
“You talk to a handful of his teammates, often casually, and none of them has a bad thing to say about him. You think that was true when Barry Bonds was in Double-A? Baird says he's weird, but a "good weird." Richards has seen him wake up in the middle of the night, eat a plate of chicken and go back to bed. "You'd have to be around him for a day and just hear all the questions he asks. You're just like, 'Come on, is that really your question?' Just random things that he doesn't need to be asking," Baird said. "It's just hilarious." During spring training, Angels veterans had some fun with Trout during team meetings. He did something to draw the attention of star pitcher Jered Weaver, who put Trout back in his place (in a corner reserved for minor leaguers) by convincing the scoreboard operator to post Trout's cell-phone number during a game. The message urged fans to call Trout with their baseball questions. Trout says he got only three or four messages. It's impossible to believe he's not feeling some pressure. Things are different for first-round picks, especially as they start drawing attention when they move through the system. For someone anointed the No. 1 player not wearing a major league uniform, it must be immense. "Everybody's watching him, the whole country," said Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, a first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1993. "It's not just the organization, but even the opposing team. When he gets to the plate, everybody's keeping an eye on him. The next guy comes up, they'll be looking around like, 'Doo-de-doo.'"
Everybody's watching him, the whole country. It's not just the organization, but even the opposing team. When he gets to the plate, everybody's keeping an eye on him.” -- Torii Hunter, Angels outfielder,
on Mike Trout
When the Angels were in Los Angeles at the end of the exhibition season, Hunter pulled Trout out of the clubhouse to a hallway leading toward the Dodger Stadium field. He wanted to offer him a little advice since it could be a year or so before he sees him again."He said, 'You're close. You've got to accept failure. If you need anything, call me,'" Trout said. Failure, of course, is inevitable in baseball. The best hitters make outs in 70 percent of their at-bats. What the Angels are hoping Trout avoids is the kind of prolonged failure that can crush a young player's confidence, trample his talent so it can't blossom. That's why he's still at Double-A though his exploits suggest he might be good enough to help the big club now. It's a debate between the immediate needs of the team and the long-term needs of a player. Given Trout's upside, the latter has trumped the former every time his name comes up.
Reporters have started asking manager Mike Scioscia about Trout almost every day, ever since Vernon Wells went on the disabled list a few ago with a strained groin. The Angels' offense has lacked dynamism most of the season. If there's one thing Trout offers, it's dynamism. For now, they're erring on the side of caution, leaving him on the farm.