Angels Prospects Mike Trout, Hank Conger Steal Futures Game Show
ANAHEIM -- West Coast Bias has two words for the Evil Coast.
Thank you for Mike Trout.
New Jersey, thankfully, is where Trout played his high school baseball. While it may be the Garden State, Jersey in the spring isn't often conducive to baseball, and Trout's limited exposure helped him fall far enough in the draft for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to select him 25th overall in 2009. Bad weather back East is more apt to work against the Angels, such as last October when, playing in too-cold-for-baseball-weather, they appeared frostbitten at Yankee Stadium. As for the draft pick the Angels used to select Trout? It came as compensation for losing star first baseman Mark Teixeira to the Death Star the previous winter.
It's cosmic justice that Trout, a rare blend of baseball skill and stunning speed, is now making the Angels look like geniuses for drafting him.
He is only 18 years old, younger than all of the elite prospects who gathered at Angel Stadium on Sunday for the annual Futures Game. The teen merely stole the show, slamming four hard shots and running the basepaths like Ichiro.
"Angels fans are going to love him," said Tony Franklin, the Yankees' Triple-A manager and a coach for the U.S. Team on Sunday. "I think he was staking out his territory today."
When Phillies prospect Domonic Brown checked out because of a tight hamstring, Trout replaced him as a pinch-runner and soon looked around the Big A and wondered where the pixie dust was.
"I kept telling myself, 'Is this really happening?'" Trout said. "Last year I was in high school."
He then did what comes naturally to him. Hit the ball hard and run fast. Really fast. It's one thing to read about Trout's fast feet, quite another to see a 6-foot-1, 217-pounder who is faster than most major leaguers. Sunday, he made scouts double-check their stopwatches.
"I had him at 3.89 [seconds] to first base off a full swing," one veteran scout told me. "That's the fastest I've seen from a right-hander all year. That's flying. I also had him at 3.91."
How fast is Trout? He created a double out of a single to center field. The other three times, he claimed first after an infielder muffed his hard bounder. As if quoting from the playbook of Angels manager Mike Scioscia, he said he's always "thinking two [bases] right out the box, even on a base hit up the middle." He scooted well in center field, too, overcoming a sketchy angle to run down a ball in the gap.
He isn't just another fast guy in spikes trying to run his way up the farm system, which seldom works. The ball rockets off the right-hander's bat, to the tune of a .526 slugging percentage in the Midwest League, a low Single-A circuit that generally favors pitchers. A .362 hitter in 81 games this season, Trout has 19 doubles, seven triples and six home runs and nearly as many walks (46) as strikeouts (52). The Baseball America magazine that Trout's teammate taped to his locker on Sunday? Trout was on the cover.
"Hard to believe he's 18 years old," said Hank Conger, another Angels prospect who was smiling after Team USA's 9-1 victory. "He's mature beyond his years."
Hardly a codger himself, Conger rose to the moment, too, by hitting a three-run home run. The blow to right off a two-strike pitch from Blue Jays prospect Henderson Alvarez earned Conger, 22, the game's MVP award. On base was Trout, who had reached on an error by World team shortstop Alex Liddi (Mariners).
Conger, who is in Triple-A, said Trout "would be one of those guys I fear behind the plate as a baserunner."
Scouts say Trout will lose footspeed as he thickens and ages. When I mentioned this to Trout, he broke out of cliche mode.
"My plan is to get faster every year," he said, with a look that meant business..
If he ages as well as his former hero, maybe he'll be clocked at 3.6 next year. "My favorite player was Derek Jeter, because growing up I was a shortstop," he said.
He's a West Coast guy now, saying it's Angels center fielder Torii Hunter who's his favorite. He'll move one level closer to Hunter on Tuesday when he reports to Rancho Cucamonga of the California League, an advanced A level. For a kid from the Northeast, the California dream is fast becoming reality.
"I knew they were hot on me," he said of the Angels. "A lot of teams were hot on me. They gave me a great opportunity. It's a great organization, and I'm just having fun."