Mike Trout is opening the 2012 baseball season with the Salt Lake Bees, but odds are he won’t be here for long.
The buzz started moments after the Los Angeles Angels drafted the high school phenom out of New Jersey with the 25th overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft.
How soon, if at all, would it be before Trout brought his five-tool ability to Salt Lake and the Bees?
Well, thanks to illness and a sore shoulder this spring, as well as a clogged Angels’ outfield, Trout will open the 2012 Pacific Coast League season with Salt Lake on Thursday at Tacoma. The Bees open their home schedule against Tucson on April 13 at Spring Mobile Ballpark (6:35 p.m.).
Last year, as a 19-year-old, the player tabbed by ESPN and MLB.com as baseball’s No. 1 prospect, made the jump from Double-A Arkansas to the Angels.
“I’ve roomed with Trout every level we’ve been together,” said Salt Lake pitcher Garrett Richards, another player who was rewarded for a quality Double-A performance with an Angels’ call-up last season. “He is definitely mature for his age. He works hard and makes adjustments easy. On top of that, he’s just a raw talent. From day one he’s been doing things he’s still doing now. He’s risen to the occasion at every level.”
More important, as Richards observed, Trout is just fun to watch.
With what the outfielder has accomplished in his short minor league career — he was BaseballAmerica’s Minor League Player of the Year — it’s difficult to remember that he is also just a lad, little more than two years removed from Millville High School, where the 6-foot-2, 210-pound bomber set a South Jersey record with 18 homers while batting .531 with 45 runs driven in.
Trout, who can run, hit with power, throw and field, has been compared to a young Mickey Mantle, for goodness sakes. How does a 20-year-old deal with the pressure of expectations?
“The main thing, once I get on the field, I put those things behind me and go out there and have fun,” Trout said earlier this week, during the Bees’ annual media day. “I’ve been playing this game my whole life. That’s playing it right, playing hard and going from there.
“Getting experience in the big leagues was a big help for me, knowing what to expect.”
The Angels called for Trout last July 8 to replace former Bee Peter Bourjos in center field, who was injured running the bases.
“I didn’t believe what I heard,” Trout said, recalling the phone call from former Angels GM Tony Reagins. “I called my parents and stuff. It was straight adrenalin — chills. It was a long flight and a long night and everything.”
Trout went 0 for 3 in his big league debut, but soon adjusted and hit his first home run July 24 against the Baltimore Orioles. Sent back to Arkansas soon after, Trout returned to Anaheim Aug. 19, hitting a home run that night at Angels Stadium. In 40 games, Trout batted .220, and was expected to be part of the Angels’ outfield plans.
However, Trout was weakened by a virus during spring training, which cost him time on the field and at least 10 pounds of weight. So, instead of sitting their prize prospect on a major league bench, the Angels sent Trout to Salt Lake City to get back into playing shape.
“[His talent] shows up in the game,” Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson said. “He pretty much does everything good. He hits for average, has high on-base percentage, scores runs and plays top-notch defense. It shows up on an everyday basis.
“He works hard. He knows he has to work that hard in order to maintain and get to his ultimate goal, which is getting to the big leagues and sticking.”
Mike Trout, at a glance
Mike Trout, drafted by the Los Angeles Angels as the 25th overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft, entered the 2011 season as the No. 1 prospect by ESPN and MLB.com. For Arkansas last season, he hit a league-best .326 with a league-high 33 stolen bases and 13 doubles.
Garrett Richards, Salt Lake’s scheduled opening-day pitcher, was a first-round selection by the Angels in 2009. In 2011, Richards, 12-2 with Double-A Arkansas, became the first Angels pitcher to make the leap from Double-A to the major leagues since Ervin Santana in 2005. He appeared in seven games for the Angels in 2011.
Another rising star
Outfielder Kole Calhoun will make his Triple-A opening-day debut a year after leading the Angels’ organization with 22 home runs and finishing sixth with a .324 batting average with Single-A Inland Empire.