MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Trout's enthusiasm matched his electric play

Trout's enthusiasm matched his electric play

Trout's enthusiasm matched his electric play
Just call it The Year of the Trout.

In a breakout season rivaling any in baseball history, Mike Trout didn't always have a great game -- it just seemed that way. But what he did have is a great time every time he put on his Angels uniform and went out to play from the heart, with soul.

Trout's unabashed love of the game is palpable, calling to mind such legendary center fielders as Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. It simply can't be missed -- or dissed.

"I'd play with that energy, too, if I was 21 and the best player in baseball," teammate Dan Haren said, grinning. "I'd be bouncing around everywhere, having a great time."

2012 awards
2012 AWARDS PREVIEW

NL MVP
AL MVP
NL Cy Young
AL Cy Young
NL Rookie
AL Rookie
NL Manager
AL Manager

Trout, who turned 21 on Aug. 7, has a legitimate shot at assembling a postseason hardware collection unprecedented in the game's history: the American League Rookie of the Year Award and the AL Most Valuable Player Award; a Rawlings Gold Glove Award in center field; and a Louisville Silver Slugger Award.

Trout's numbers across the board are staggering for any player, let alone one so young.

Trout hit .326 with .399 on-base and .564 slugging percentages. He led the Majors in runs scored (129, 20 more than the next most) and in steals (49). He finished second in the AL batting race, trailing Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (.330). Only Cabrera had a higher OPS (on-base plus slugging) than Trout's .963 in the AL.

Defensively, Trout saved more runs by a wide margin than any other center fielder in all the analytics.

Teammate Vernon Wells, a three-time Gold Glove winner, marvels at the seemingly limitless talents Trout extracts from that 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame.

"You definitely enjoy the game when you have the season he's having," Wells said. "He has fun. He's got the ability to do anything and everything on a baseball field -- and to do it almost effortlessly.

"There are not too many guys in the game now who you would pay to go watch each and every day. He brings electricity to the stadium, whether he's in the field, at the plate or on the bases."

In terms of the whole package, Wells sees no one in the game comparable to the kid from Millville, N.J., who was born to run, hit, throw and catch anything in the park -- to say nothing of some balls trying to leave the yard.

Four times Trout has soared above walls to steal home runs for an appreciative pitching staff, using timing and hops normally found on NBA courts.

"No, not right now," Wells said when asked if Trout has an equal as a total player. "He's one of those guys who, when you're done playing, you're going to say, 'I played with Mike Trout. I was there when he got started.'"

Trout's MVP candidacy may have taken a hit since the Angels missed the postseason. Cabrera, the Tigers' slugger backed by Prince Fielder, won the Triple Crown which may also give him an edge in the AL MVP voting. It could come down to a choice between Trout's all-around excellence and Cabrera's power production.

Trout's season didn't start until April 28, making his statistical contributions all the more remarkable. According to WAR -- defined as wins above replacement -- he's in a class of his own, leading the Major Leagues at 10.7. WAR dumps every conceivable piece of data into the computer and determines a player's total value to his team.

The next highest WAR in the Majors belonged to Robinson Cano at 8.2. That's a huge gap.

The sudden emergence of a superlative young talent can engender negative responses from opponents and teammates. How Trout carries himself is critical to how he is perceived.

Respect, not envy or jealousy, seems to trail Trout everywhere he goes.

"I've gotten to know him a little, and I really like the guy," said A's right fielder Josh Reddick, who also took flight this season as a premier performer. "He plays the game the right way -- and you've got to respect that."

A's manager Bob Melvin sees parallels in the approaches and attitudes Trout and Reddick bring to the game.

"They're both hard-nosed players," Melvin said. "You get the total complement as far as what they can do. Certainly Trout runs a little better. It's refreshing to see young guys with that kind of talent play the game that hard."

Trout and Reddick had a little on-field game they played.

"When he gets to second base," Reddick said, "he'll look out at me and give me a little wave with his hand, saying 'Come and get me [with a throw].' I do the same thing with him and Torii [Hunter]."

Hunter is hoping for a Rawlings Gold Glove Award that would be his first in right field and No. 10 in his career.

The first nine came in center field, a position Hunter yielded first to Peter Bourjos and then to Trout, tutoring both young athletes in the nuances of the position.

"I started that [gesture] when I go like this," Hunter said, flipping his hand. "It's just one of those inside things in a game. They're sort of like my kids, these young players like Trout, [Mark] Trumbo, Bourjos."

Trout appreciates the personal interest Hunter and Wells have taken in him, sharing wisdom and knowledge.

"He's a great teammate," Trout said of Hunter. "He understands the game. He's been playing a long time, and he's a smart guy. He's playing all out at 37; that's impressive. He's 37 going on 27. He's not just a leader on the field -- he's a leader all the time.

"Vernon also has been really helpful with the way he approaches the game and his understanding of how to play. I've been lucky to have guys like that around me."

Trout's late start was the result of a respiratory ailment that set him back during the spring, sending him off to Triple-A Salt Lake to recover his strength and timing. He arrived in Anaheim and immediately transformed the Angels, whose start was uninspired.

"I've tried to just take advantage of every day and do whatever I can to help us win, whether it's at the plate, on the bases or in the field," Trout said. "I don't like to get ahead of myself."

Haren watched Trout -- reserved and tight-lipped as a part-time role player in 2011 -- reveal more of his outgoing nature as the season had progressed.

"It doesn't get old for me watching him -- the way he plays and the attitude he has, too," Haren said. "He's really opened up, shown who he is. His personality's come out. I always enjoy talking to him. He has so much fun and has so much passion for the game."

As freely as he smiles on the field, Trout has an edge behind the scenes.

"Everyone sees the genuine smile on a young face," Hunter said, "but this kid is very intense. I like it. I respect him to death because of the way he carries himself.

"That's why one day he's going to be a true leader. You've got some guys who play the game at a high level and can't be a team leader. Mike will be a leader, no doubt. He doesn't get caught up in [external] stuff. He's all about winning -- not stats, publicity, attention."

A lightning rod for players around the game, Hunter hears the awe in their voices when they talk about Trout.

"They'll come over and say, 'Love to watch him play,'" Hunter said. "He's such a good guy with that warm energy, good energy. Players don't want to see him beat them, but they respect his game -- how humble he is, how he carries himself.

"He doesn't let all this attention change his approach. He doesn't walk around like the golden child -- even though he is."

Trout has been among the fastest players in the game since signing as a high school kid, the No. 25 overall choice in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. He began dropping jaws with his speed in his first Spring Training the following February.

The stunning power arrived this season -- earlier than projected, given how players traditionally don't fully mature until they're in the 24-27 age range.

Critics who flatly rejected Mickey Mantle comparisons in the spring have been silenced. Trout has No. 7's frame -- thick neck, broad shoulders, thin waist, powerful legs -- and the skills to go with the physical gifts.

Former Indians manager Manny Acta turned to one of his coaches earlier this season and said, "That must be the way the Mick used to look, to be the fastest guy on the field and the strongest one."

The Trout comparison that Hunter favors is Rickey Henderson.

"He can do it all, but the one thing that jumps out for everybody is his speed," Hunter said. "They can't believe he can run like that. He takes earth from the ground when he runs. He has a running-back body and runs like one.

"Rickey was a game-changer at the top of the order. Mike's like that."

Henderson made it a point to come see Trout when the Angels were sweeping the A's in September in Oakland.

"Rickey was great to me," Trout said. "I couldn't get over how big he is. He shook my hand, and it was like huge. He's got that great smile, but I didn't realize he was so big -- and powerful."

In The Year of the Trout, the kid from Jersey had Hall of Famers going out of their way to meet him.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.