ANAHEIM -- The challenge came from bench coach Dino Ebel in the early stages of Spring Training. He told the Angels' outfielders to get used to playing shallow, because he felt they had the speed to get back on balls and because he wanted to continually take away the bloop singles. Ebel was talking to every outfielder on the 40-man roster, but really, he was talking to Mike Trout.
About a month ago, Trout fully bought into the concept.
And on Monday night, while robbing the Yankees' Chris Young of run-scoring extra-base hits with two leaping, twisting, over-the-shoulder catches near the center-field warning track, Trout showed how much more comfortable he has become drifting back on fly balls.
"He was pumped about it," Ebel said after the Angels' 4-1 win over the Yankees. "You could see it in his face."
You really only had to look at Young's face, though. With a runner on first and second and one out in the third, and with a runner on second and one out in the fifth, Young hit bullets to straightaway center field and came up empty-handed. After the second, he offered a dismissive grin and brushed his hand in Trout's direction.
He thought both were hits.
"Then you remember Trout is out there," Young said. "He's been known to make quite a few Web Gems."
Trout can also hit and run a little bit, too. He gave the Angels a 2-1 lead with his 20th home run in the bottom of the third, then stole his first base since May 22 in the bottom of the eighth, just for good measure.
"Real shocker, right?" C.J. Wilson mused after getting a win in large part because of Trout. "Trout hits a home run, saves a couple runs with his defense, whatever."
Trout has been making game-saving catches since his first full season in 2012, but these meant a little more. They proved to him that he can take away the flare in shallow center field without giving up the ability to track down fly balls -- heck, line drives -- to the warning track.
"I just felt like I can get back on balls easier than coming in on balls," said Trout, who entered Monday with a 4.1 Wins Above Replacement score but a minus-1.0 Ultimate Zone Rating, according to FanGraphs. "I don't want to get handcuffed with the twilight and stuff; it's working out. Like balls tonight, trusting yourself that you can get to them."
All the great center fielders start off shallow. Willie Mays played shallow, Orioles All-Star Adam Jones plays shallow, and Ebel felt Trout needed to as well. It was his next step in becoming an all-around great defensive player. But he needed to buy in. He needed to trust himself drifting back on balls and he needed to listen to the pitchers on his team, who told Trout not to worry if balls got over his head because it would be their fault, anyway.
"I think Trout has bought into it. He feels good doing it," said Ebel, who has coached the Angels' outfielders for the last five years. "I think the big thing with Trout is that he's trusting himself."