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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Trout a hit even when he misses

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Trout a hit even when he misses play video for Trout a hit even when he misses

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

This month has been a reminder that Mike Trout is more than simply the best baseball player on earth. No one argues much about that part of the deal anymore, do they? Even as last October put Andrew McCutchen's greatness on display and as Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, Yasiel Puig and others have emerged as incredibly talented players, Trout is the gold standard.

This is the season when Trout may get the American League Most Valuable Player Award he arguably should have won the past two seasons. After twice finishing second to Miguel Cabrera in the voting, Trout appears to be in a dead heat with Donaldson as baseball sprints toward the All-Star break.

Trout's name is again dotted across the AL leaderboards -- first in OPS, sixth in home runs, second in triples, second in OBP. According to fangraphs.com, he's leading the AL in Wins Above Replacement. Nothing new there. Over the last three seasons, his is the highest WAR in all of baseball, while his OPS is behind only Cabrera.

Numbers aside, there's something else that makes Trout so enormously appealing, and it's the very thing a lot of scouts mention when they're asked about him. Like most of us, they marvel at his power and speed and instincts.

They point to games like Tuesday night's, when Trout coaxed two walks and then crushed a home run to right-center. In a game like that, it's all right there -- the strength and instincts and discipline.

One moment stood out from the game apart from the home run, and it happened to be a play Trout DIDN'T make. There aren't many of those, but to a lot of people it spoke volumes about him.

It happened in the top of the second inning when Josh Willingham hit a towering fly to left-center. Over the last three years, you've seen Trout rush back and make spectacular plays on balls exactly like this one.

That's how this play started. Trout ran toward the wall and climbed it, first one foot, then the other. He leaped, extended his glove way over the wall and flipped it back toward home plate and landed.

At that moment, Trout appeared to have made another one of those highlight-reel catches, one of the plays that has come to define his career. At some point, though, he smiled and opened his glove and revealed he hadn't caught the ball. Willingham, who'd slowed down around second base, thinking he was out, resumed his trot around the bases.

It was what Trout did after not making the play that was incredibly impressive. He smiled that big smile of his, shook his head and took a glance back toward the wall. It was as if Trout thought he still should have made a play on a ball clearly out of his reach.

And that's the thing that stands out about Mike Trout. It's not the numbers or the accomplishments. It's not that he's well on his way to becoming the face of baseball. In fact, he may already be there.

It's the joy with which Trout plays the game. It's the speed he seems to do everything, how he explodes out of the batter's box and sprints around the bases. It's his attitude. It's how he seems to have a permanent smile on his face, how he seems to spend half a game laughing about something.

There's something so appealing about Trout's approach to everything. Just two springs ago, he wondered if Albert Pujols even knew who he was. Trout seemed completely thrilled at the thought of playing with Pujols.

Now after 407 games, after he has long since established himself as a special kind of player, Trout seems not to have lost an ounce of that enthusiasm and wonder. He's clearly doing something he loves, and much like Tony Gwynn once did, Trout arrives at the ballpark seemingly anxious to find out what the day has in store for him.

I wanted to point out that Trout's at-bats have become must-watch television, but to watch only his at-bats would be to risk missing some of the best parts of his game. He's one of the players -- Billy Hamilton is another, Alex Gordon another -- who is just as entertaining on defense as he is standing in the batter's box.

Trout is the whole package, and we're the lucky ones who've gotten in on the ground floor of his career. He's still just 22 years old and just passed the 1,500-mark in career at-bats. There's going to be so much more of Mike Trout to enjoy in the years ahead.

So let's all pay attention. Let's appreciate what we're seeing, how special this kid is and how extraordinary it is to watch Trout do pretty much everything. Someday, we'll be able to tell fans, yep, we saw it early on, knew the kid was different. He's one of the players who'll help define this generation of baseball, and aren't we the lucky ones?

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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