Informed about my subject of Mike Trout, Salt Lake Bees general manager Marc Amicone smiled and said wryly, “You know he’s not here, right?”
And he’s not coming back, judging by his performance with the Los Angeles Angels. If you missed him, that’s too bad.
“There was definitely a buzz around the ballclub when he was here,” said Bees manager Keith Johnson, “but the ultimate goal is to get them to the big leagues and, hopefully, I never see him again down here.”
In Salt Lake City’s baseball history, Trout’s stopover was not nearly as brief as that of Alvin Davis, a first baseman who made his Triple-A debut in the Gulls’ 1984 opener and was summoned to Seattle after seven innings when a veteran player was injured that day. Davis played in the All-Star Game that summer and became the American League Rookie of the Year.
Trout lasted 20 games with the Bees before the Angels recalled him in late April. He appeared in nine home games, with total attendance of 37,811. So a rare case of a Triple-A player worthy of marketing was basically wasted in April, long before the unofficial start of baseball season around here when the Jazz are done playing and kids are out of school.
He’s still “former Salt Lake Bees outfielder Mike Trout” for life, and that’s a good thing. In his first 31 games with the Angels, Trout batted .309 with five home runs and 19 RBIs — including the game-winning, two-run single Friday against Texas.
“What he’s doing over there, now that he’s getting the opportunity to play every day, doesn’t surprise me,” said Bees hitting coach Frankie Matos, who worked with Trout last season at Double-A Arkansas. “To be honest with you, I don’t think he was ready last year. But even last year, if we would have had an opportunity to play every day, he would have done a better job.”
Trout skipped Triple-A last summer, flying over Salt Lake City. Playing in 14 games in July, he batted only .163 with the Angels, who sent him back to Arkansas. But this story of Matos’ is worth retelling: “The first thing that came out of his mouth when I asked him was, ‘I know I can hit there.’ ”
After returning to Anaheim in August, Trout raised his average to .220 by the end of the season. With the Bees this spring, he was batting .403 with five triples in only 77 at-bats before the Angels released veteran outfielder Bobby Abreu and promoted Trout.
A natural center fielder, Trout also plays left field in one of baseball’s best defensive outfields. He sometimes joins ex-Bee center fielder Peter Bourjos and right fielder Torii Hunter, who came through Salt Lake City in the Minnesota Twins organization.
Trout is doing everything for the Angels that he did for the Bees: hitting, stealing bases, scoring runs, driving in runs and running down fly balls. Whenever someone asked him what to expect from Trout this spring, Johnson would say, “All parts of his game show up every night.”
Bees pitcher Matt Shoemaker has played with Trout at various levels in the system and appreciates his demeanor. In contrast to Washington rookie Bryce Harper, there’s never been an issue about Trout’s approach.
“He’s a great teammate, a great guy, really down to earth,” Shoemaker said. “He respects the game, which is great. … He’s such an explosive player. He definitely keeps getting better.”
Trout won’t turn 21 until August. And the eligibility rules make him a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2012, during a season that started in Salt Lake City. If you’re among the 37,811 who witnessed him at Spring Mobile Ballpark in April, save that ticket stub and savor the memories.
Trout then and now
Mike Trout’s presence (or absence) on the roster has profoundly affected both the Salt Lake Bees and the parent Los Angeles Angels in 2012 (records through Friday):
Team With Without Total
Bees 14-7 14-21 28-28
Angels 21-12 6-14 27-26