By Chrystopher Mulligan
NFL PRO ZACH Staff Writer
For a long time, this American League West Coast team battled age and injuries to get back to relevance. After a few years of merely being a speed bump to the other teams in the division, this team finally found what it was looking for in a young, 20 year-old hot shot. This young phenomenon made his debut at 19 and the hype surrounding his bat was surely just as large as that surrounding his name. A kid whose father who had ties in baseball, not only made his professional debut as a solid ball player, but as an athlete whose future would shine as bright as his potential.
|Ken Griffey Jr.|
Honestly, how many people thought of Ken Griffey Jr. right there? The player that comes to mind these days is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s 20 year old center fielder Mike Trout. Born and raised in New Jersey, Trout has emerged as a baseball superstar this year. A former first round pick, taken 25th overall by the Angels in the 2009 MLB Draft, Trout quickly became an instant star this season putting up numbers that have entered him in both the AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP discussions. As the season progresses, the son of a former Minnesota Twins farmhand, has accomplished things that is making him iconic for the sport; allowing the MLB to market a player who is that good and that young for the first time since guys like Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. burst onto the scene. The latter of those two former Mariners became one of baseball’s greatest hitters and easily one of the best ambassadors the sport has ever seen. Trout’s storyline so far is almost identical to that of Junior’s and the comparisons are not a stretch of the imagination by any standard.
Mike Trout has become a household name this season ever since spring training began in late February. The constant question surrounding the Angels was when will they call up baseball’s top prospect after he had a very brief Major League debut at age 19 in 2011. Angels’ and baseball fans alike did not have to wait very long as the Angels’ General Manager Jerry Dipoto made the decision on April 28th after designating their aging outfielder Bobby Abreu for assignment. The Angels front office knew what they had in their young outfielder, making the decision to call him up that much easier although, there is always risk when summoning the help of such a young player. During Trout’s short stretch in the Majors as a 19 year old, he hit .220 with an on-base percentage of only .281 in 40 games and 123 ABs. Those numbers do not quite stick with the ones Griffey put up as a 19 year old in 1989 when he hit 16 home runs in 127 games with a batting average of .264 and 61 RBI. During that full season, debuting after being selected #1 overall in 1987, Griffey finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting. As a 20 year old Griffey played 155 games, hitting .300 with 22 homers, 80 RBI and 16 stolen bases while playing Gold Glove center field representing the Mariners in the All Star Game and finishing 19th in AL MVP voting. “The Kid” was recognized with these accomplishments all but a year before Mike Trout was even born. Fast forward 22 years to Trout’s first full season in the Majors and he’s putting up Griffey-like numbers; hitting .349 in 85 games so far this season with 19 home runs, while leading the American League in Runs (86) Stolen Bases (33) Offensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 6.0 and only second in Slugging (.602) to David Ortiz. This year Mike Trout was an All Star center fielder for the Angels and will certainly be in the discussion for the Gold Glove award. He all but locked in the Rookie of the Year Award this season and should finish in the top 3 for MVP, if not win the prize.
As the season chugs along, there is no doubt that the Angels’ center fielder of the future has created his own name with his accomplishments. He is well on his way to becoming the best center fielder in that division and the best player in baseball. Trout is making a name for himself because of his work ethic and his achievements which make it truly amazing to watch. Although he resembles a former great in Junior, he is surrounded with players that will help him produce a little bit more than what Griffey had in his lineup with the Mariners. Hopefully Trout will stay healthy and win that elusive title one day that the Kid never could reach.
Comparisons are fun to play around with in any walk of life. Ken Griffey Jr., endured many lasting injuries throughout his career and still finished among the greatest to ever play the game. He is not a player who needs to be compared with to recognize his achievements on and off the field, though it is fun to use his legacy as a guideline for future stars. There is no doubt that when you look at Trout’s make up, his position, division and most importantly his stats that you cannot find yourself thinking “What if?”. Ken Griffey Jr. was a hell of a baseball player and his accomplishments cemented him as one of the greatest center fielders to ever play the game, even without a ring. So it is fun to dream about what Trout can become if the Angels win it all this year. Most baseball fans over the age of 20 have had the privilege to share some of Griffey’s iconic moments in their early years when he became baseball’s greatest story. He was an absolute fan favorite and a player that everyone wanted to see wearing their favorite team’s uniform. So it is out of sheer greed in which we hope to see another great player of the game grow in front of our own eyes.