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MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Trout focused on leading Angels to postseason

Superstar's historic first two seasons weren't enough to lift Halos to playoffs

Trout focused on leading Angels to postseason

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Apart from his astonishing talent, the greatest thing about Mike Trout, to those who know him best, is that he doesn't believe he's the greatest thing since sliced banana bread.

Teammates truly love the guy, which says it all.

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"I respect his demeanor," said Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, who lockers next to Trout and has observed him every step along the path to superstardom. "He's the same guy no matter what he does in the game. He just wants to win. Mike plays hard every day to win, not to put up numbers.

"For a guy so young to be so poised is impressive. He was like that from the start. Even when he struggled a little bit when he came up [in 2011], you knew he was special. There was just something about him, a presence he had.

"He's going to keep working to get better, because that's just the way he is. He's not going to be satisfied until we get to the playoffs and win. And even then he'll keep working on his game."

Through two historic seasons, Trout has done everything but win an American League batting title, an AL Most Valuable Player Award and appear in a postseason game. A run through October is at the top of his personal agenda -- and he's not about to sit around and wait for it to come to him.

"I'm running this year," said Trout, who this spring has shown that complacency isn't in the vocabulary of the consensus best all-around player in the game. "Every opportunity I have to steal a base, I'm gonna go. I want to put pressure on the defense.

"Last year, when I hit third, I didn't steal that many bags. Pitchers did a good job of slide-stepping, holding me on. I'm looking forward to stealing more bags this year."

He's a very smart guy who likes to keep things simple. His focus offensively is on scoring runs, any way he can.

In 2012, his breakout season, Trout led the AL in steals with 49 and in runs scored with 129 despite spending the first month at Triple-A Salt Lake. He slipped to 33 thefts last year, even as he raised his on-base percentage from .399 to .432 with a league-high 110 walks -- an increase of 43 in 18 more games. He again led the league in runs scored, with 109.

Trout has led off 157 times, batted second 90 times and third on 50 occasions. Manager Mike Scioscia has him slotted in the No. 2 spot, between Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols, with the expectation that the center fielder will improve upon his 97 RBIs.

"Mike gets a lot more opportunities to drive in runs hitting second than he does leading off," Scioscia said. "We want him up there in situations where he can do some damage.

"And yes, I want him to run. He has the green light. He had it last year, but because of circumstances, there weren't as many situations for him to go."

Owing to the frequency of walks and getting pitched around, his home run output dropped slightly from 30 to 27. But Trout clearly has the ability to be a 40-40 man, among the rarest of baseball species. Only Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano -- one time each -- have done it.

Trout doesn't turn 23 until Aug. 7. By traditional standards, he hasn't even come into his fully developed power. That normally happens in the 26-to-28 range.

Trout, who is hitting .400 and slugging .850 this spring, has left hardened veterans in open-mouthed awe with his blasts. His fourth homer of the spring came on Thursday in Surprise, Ariz., traveling at least 440 feet against Royals lefty Bruce Chen.

"Oh, the changeup?" Trout said when asked how that one felt. It takes a powerful man to send a changeup that far. His average homer distance of 420 feet last season led the Majors.

Kendrick still shakes his head in wonder recalling the home run on May 21 last season that completed Trout's cycle, making him the youngest player in AL history to turn the trick.

"The pitch he crushed to right-center [against Mariners lefty Lucas Luetge] for the cycle was down around his ankles," Kendrick said. "To hit a pitch in that location that far … you just don't see that. Mike does some amazing things. He goes down and gets the low pitches as well as anyone I've seen."

Trout is experimenting somewhat with being more aggressive early in counts. He swung at only 12 percent of first pitches last year -- the seventh-lowest total in the AL, but an increase over his rookie season. By comparison, Miguel Cabrera, who has won the past two AL MVP Awards and batting championships, hacked at a league-high 39.7 percent of first pitches last season -- ahead of Josh Hamilton's 39.5.

"It's got to be in a good location," Trout said. "I'd rather see a bunch of pitches and fly out than fly out on the first pitch. [Batting second or third] is different than when I lead off. I'm more of a guinea pig leading off, seeing more pitches for my teammates. I'm more aggressive this way."

The Angels have finished third in the AL West the past two seasons, and they haven't experienced October baseball since 2009. Trout has no trouble finding motivation to improve upon his greatness.

"Winning's the big thing," he said. "That's what we're here for, working for, pushing each other for. We want to win. There were a couple of stretches last year that were no fun at all."

The kid from New Jersey -- Bruce Springsteen's turf -- was born to run. Now Millville's pride and joy burns to lift a World Series championship trophy.

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

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