Trumbo's uncanny power wows Angels
Mark Trumbo might have the most awkward nickname in baseball.
It's four words long and comes from a fictitious character. Some of his Los Angeles Angels teammates gave it to him after they met a guy named Domingo Ayala, who does spoof instructional videos (one of which starred Trumbo) that have gained a wide audience on YouTube. The mustachioed, chain-wearing "former professional player" dishes out absurd baseball advice in a thick accent. One of the videos led to Trumbo's nickname.
"Separate, collapse, uppercut and mash," says second baseman Howie Kendrick.
The Angels have seen plenty of uppercutting, plenty of mashing from Trumbo this season, perhaps enough to earn him the team's first rookie of the year award since Tim Salmon in 1993. He's on pace to become the first rookie ever to lead the Angels in both home runs (22) and RBIs (63). But the numbers are only shoddy depictions of Trumbo's outlandish power.
He has hit balls so hard in so many directions since spring training that Angels manager Mike Scioscia says he is as powerful as any hitter he has ever seen. Scioscia played a World Series against Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. He managed a World Series against Barry Bonds.
Few fans get to the ballpark early enough to watch batting practice, but that's when Trumbo often puts on a show. He hit one over the bleachers at Progressive Field in Cleveland. He hit one off batting coach Mickey Hatcher that Hatcher swears never got higher than about eight feet off the ground. When Trumbo made contact, Torii Hunter yelled, "That's a double." The ball cleared the yellow line before chipping some paint on a first-row seat.
That raw power has translated into usable power in games for the past couple of months. On this last homestand alone, Trumbo launched a towering drive into the rocks (457 feet), a sinking liner into the back bullpen (432) and a loud rocket that rattled around by the flagpoles in left-center (471). They added up to 1,360 feet worth of home runs and each of them helped the Angels stay glued to the Texas Rangers, just one game back.
"He has the ability to hit it out, line to line," Hatcher said. "You don't see that very often."
You certainly don't see it very often from an 18th-round draft pick, who -- as recently as four years ago -- was struggling so badly in the minor leagues, he contemplated becoming a pitcher again.
Trumbo slipped to the 18th round in 2004 because every team in the majors figured he was going to accept a scholarship to USC and because he wouldn't waver on his bonus demand, $1.425 million.
The Angels couldn't miss Trumbo's skills, in part because he was displaying them about five miles from their stadium at Villa Park High. They took him, then met the asking price and snatched him from USC coach Mike Gillespie days before USC classes were to begin.
His career almost ended before it started. Team doctor Lewis Yocum read an MRI from Trumbo's physical that showed irregularities in his right elbow. The Angels had drafted Trumbo as a pitcher. He had a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, a nice curveball and a split-finger pitch. Virtually everybody who scouted him had him penciled in to pitch.
"Hitting was just an afterthought," Trumbo said.
There was really only one guy, former Dodgers hitting coach Ben Hines, who worked as a part-time scout for the Angels, who had Trumbo tabbed as a hitter all along. For a while, it looked like Hines might be wrong. Trumbo got caught in a limbo land that rarely works out for professional athletes. He had a tough 2006 season at Class A Cedar Rapids, where he batted .220 and struck out 99 times in 118 games. He started contemplating a return to the mound.
At instructional league that fall, he revamped his swing and, in short order, he started believing he was, at last, a hitter. He never again batted below .272 in his five seasons in the minors and he began climbing the prospect lists again, but it was a slog. That rough start created plenty of skeptics.
"I hadn't seen quality pitching. My mechanics were pretty raw," Trumbo said. "I could get away with it in high school, but I got exposed pretty quick. I made some adjustments and, looking back on it, I'm glad I did struggle so much in '06, because I got to experience what it's really like to struggle and what it takes to come out of it."
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Trumbo led the Pacific Coast League in home runs (36) and RBIs (122) last year, but even as recently as February, Baseball America did not rank him in its list of the top 100 prospects in baseball.
"Mark knew these people were wrong and he also knew the only way to prove them wrong was to put up numbers at the big league level and he is doing that," said former Angels scouting director Eddie Bane, now with the Detroit Tigers. "He is a thinker and a worker and he worked on his swing constantly."
The Angels have seen Trumbo, 25, ride out cold stretches this season and, through study and talent, emerge. He's far from the finished product. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 82-to-19 is woeful, but the Angels have accepted his all-or-nothing approach because his upside is so alluring. This offense can go days without producing any loud noises and Trumbo, often, is the one who breaks the silence. He has single-handedly rescued the Angels from the loss of Kendrys Morales and elevated their offense at least a notch above those of the punchless Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's.
The Angels have actually encouraged Trumbo to swing hard.
Hatcher's mantra with Trumbo is to "be dangerous all the time." He doesn't want Trumbo cutting down his swing unless, of course, the pitcher gets two strikes on him. What stands out, Hatcher said, are Trumbo's fearsome leverage and pinpoint timing. He is 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, with surprising hand-eye coordination.
"He squares balls up with the best of them," Hatcher said. "Sometimes, you look out there and those infielders are scared to death. He's a lot further along than what I thought he would be."
Trumbo started going to baseball games at Angel Stadium in 1993, the year Salmon hit 31 home runs and drove in 95, numbers that earned him American League Rookie of the Year honors unanimously. Trumbo was 7. Who knows? Maybe there was a kid at Angel Stadium last week who saw one of Trumbo's big blasts and is willing to put the hours in to be next in line.Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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