Mike Trout raking at triple-A; can Angels find room for him?


Mike Trout leads off Monday's game with a home run for the Los Angeles Angels' triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake City Bees. (David B. Parker/RGJ)

Mike Trout, the 20-year-old super-prospect for the Los Angeles Angels, took his demotion in stride. After battling a flu that caused him to lose nearly 15 pounds, while also battling shoulder and leg stiffness, the team decided to option him to triple-A Salt Lake to get his strength back and get steady at-bats. He could have easily hung his head, showed his age by complaining and moaning about it. He could have lost confidence in himself and got stuck in a slump.

But that isn’t Mike Trout. This is a kid who played his high school ball in Millville, New Jersey, which isn’t exactly a hotbed for baseball prospects. When the scouts wouldn’t come to him, he went to them, traveling across the country to work out for teams. Angels coach Mike Scioscia knew about him, however. And when the Angels nabbed him with the 25th overall pick in the 2009 draft, he was ecstatic to have the next Kirby Puckett on his hands, as he put it.

After hitting .352 with seven doubles, seven triples, a home run, 13 stolen bases and a .905 OPS as a 17-year-old in his pro debut, another comparison began to get thrown around. Whether it was the striking baby face resemblance, the build (6’-1”, 210 pounds), the elite speed, the way he roamed the outfield like a deer or just the way he carries himself on the field, the name Mickey Mantle started to pop up.

No pressure, Mike.

As usual, for Trout, none taken. As an 18-year-old, he hit .362 with 19 doubles, seven triples, six home runs, 39 RBI and a whopping 45 bases over 81 games at class-A Cedar Rapids while being one of the youngest players in the league. He was promoted to high class-A Rancho Cucamonga and finished the season hitting .341 with 28 doubles, nine triples, 10 home runs, 58 RBI, 56 stolen bases and a .918 OPS over 131 games. He also drew 73 walks to 85 strikeouts, showing an advanced approach at the plate for his age. The power might not resemble the Mick’s game, but everything else did.

He started 2011 at double-A Arkansas and would end the season in Los Angeles, winning Minor League Player of the Year honors along the way.  Over 91 games at Arkansas, he hit .326 with 18 doubles, 13 triples, 11 home runs, 38 RBI and 33 stolen bases. He had a .958 OPS … from the leadoff spot. The power is starting to come around. After all, he is built like a linebacker. He then struggled as the youngest player in the majors at age 19, hitting just .220 with a .672 OPS and 30 strikeouts over 40 games. He did hit five home runs, with 16 RBI and four stolen bases, however, and made some amazing defensive plays in center field for the Halo’s.

Fast forward to this season. Like I said, he isn’t the type of player to get down on himself. Through his first seven games at Salt Lake, he is 13-for-29 (.448) with nine runs, a double, triple, home run and four RBI — again, from the leadoff spot. He has stolen two bases while playing his usual stellar defense in center.

The flu is long gone, the weight is back and the shoulder and legs are 100 percent. He appears ready to resume his career in Los Angeles and become one of the most exciting all-around players in the game, while still being the youngest.

Only problem is, there isn’t room for him.

Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells  Peter Bourjos and even Bobby Abreu roam the outfield. Kendrys Morales is at DH with the arrival of Albert Pujols at first base. Then you have Mark Trumbo playing out of position at third base, committing three errors in two games. Where does Trout get regular at-bats?

The outfield is where he belongs, particularly center field where he shines on defense. But Bourjos is a gold-glove caliber center fielder himself and also pretty dynamic on offense. He hit .271 with 26 doubles, 11 triples, 12 home runs, 43 RBI and stole 22 bases as a 24-year-old rookie for them last year. His 32 walks to 124 strikeouts leave something to be desired, but still, he isn’t going anywhere. His inside-the-park home run on Wednesday shows the kind of havoc he can wreak on the base paths. Plus, he makes $500,000 this year and isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2014. Same goes for Trumbo, so he isn’t going anywhere because they aren’t paying him anything.

Wells? The 33-year-old had a miserable season in 2011 by his standards, hitting just .218 with 25 home runs, 66 RBI and a .660 OPS. He hasn’t started off this season any better, going 3-for-18 with five strikeouts through his first five games. He may be the most untradable guy in the majors, however, as he is due to make $24.6MM over the next three seasons. Yes, that number is correct, Wells is the third highest paid player in baseball behind only Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard. It is safe to say that he isn’t going anywhere either.

Morales is only making $3MM this year, and obviously, Pujols isn’t going anywhere, so that leaves Hunter and Abreu. Both are in the final year of their contracts with Hunter making $18.5MM and Abreu making $9MM. Reports are the team has been busy shopping Abreu, but so far, no one has bitten. A potential trade with the Indians fell apart due to concerns about salary and how much the Indians wanted to take on. Abreu has since accepted his reduced role with the team, but he still would take away at-bats from Trout. As far as Hunter is concerned, his salary is also too high for anyone to take on unless the Angels ate most of it, something they obviously aren’t willing to do as evidenced by the felled Abreu trade.

For now, it looks like Trout will have to bide his time at triple-A. Unless a trade happens out of the blue, or a serious injury occurs, he will continue to rake as one of the youngest players in his league. Fans might just have to be patient and wait awhile. After all,Puckett didn’t make it to the majors until age 24, and he turned out alright.

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