Is it Time to Crown Rookie Phenom Mike Trout the Game’s Best Player?

By Cody Swartz

There have been just a handful of young men that have debuted in Major League Baseball as rookies and instantly established themselves as one of the game’s elite all-around weapons.

Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Albert Pujols come to mind But the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s rookie outfielder Mike Trout is revolutionizing the game, and he may be off to a hotter start than any of the other players.

Trout is hitting at a .348 clip with a ridiculous .610 slugging percentage, 1.010 OPS, and 182 adjusted OPS that leads the league. He has 18 home runs, 55 RBIs, and 31 stolen bases (out of 34 attempts!) to go along with 81 runs scored in 82 games, 200 total bases, and a .379 batting average with runners in scoring position.

He’s been named rookie of the month for three straight calendar months, and he was named both the AL’s Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month in July, a month in which he posted absolutely astounding totals – he hit .392/.455/.804 with 10 home runs, nine steals, 23 RBIs, 32 runs scored, and a ridiculous 2.8 WAR that was twice as good as the next-best AL position player (Miguel Cabrera). He had more games with two hits that month (14) than without two hits (11).

Trout can play any position in the outfield and he can play them well, and he’s a terrific base runner as well. He’s on pace to become the first player ever to hit .340 with 25 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a single season. He’s only the second player ever to hit .350 with 15 homers and 30 steals before August (Rickey Henderson in 1985 was the other), and the Angels – who were 6-14 when Trout was called up – are 51-34 since, and they’re just four games back of the Texas Rangers in the AL West.

Trout is getting better as the year goes along, and he’s going to be downright scary in the playoffs for the Angels’ opponents. He’s hitting .373/.453/.733 with five doubles, two triples, six home runs, 15 RBIs, 24 runs, and 10 walks in his last 18 games. Compare that to Josh Hamilton’s last 18 games, as Hamilton is just 11 for 70 (.157) with five extra-base hits, eight runs scored, and no steals.

Trout has all but stolen the MVP award away from Hamilton, Cabrera, or anyone else that would have won it. He’s going to win the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP award collectively at the age of 20, and that may make him the best player in baseball now. There really isn’t a clear-cut best player in the game. Ask 10 people and you may get five or six different answers. Hamilton has to be considered, so does Albert Pujols, along with players like Joey Votto, Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, or even a pitcher like Justin Verlander.

I never like to jump on a young player’s bandwagon early on, especially because I like to see a guy prove it for awhile before I crown him the next coming of Babe Ruth. But Trout isn’t a no-name player who is having a fluke year; he’s a former first round pick who was the 2011 Minor League Player of the Year and Baseball America’s number one prospect (ahead of Bryce Harper, no less). He’s wasted absolutely no time transitioning to the major leagues, and some of his best attributes are his impressive batting eye, his remarkable ability to come through in the clutch (1.122 OPS with RISP, 2.176 OPS with a man on third base and less than two outs, 1.059 OPS with two outs, and a 1.098 OPS in high leverage situations).

He has a nearly unparalled combination of power and speed which will likely only get better as he becomes more accustomed to the game. He is tremendous defensively, he has been the catalyst for the Angels all season, and when he wins the MVP award in a few months, hopefully there will no longer be any debate as to who is the game’s best player.

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