Mike Trout stays humble, but frustrated with Angels’ progress – USA TODAY
With MLB spring training underway, there’s plenty to talk about.
USA TODAY Sports
TEMPE, Ariz. – The world’s best baseball player has a new teammate on each side of his locker in the Los Angeles Angels clubhouse, corner infielder Luis Valbuena to the left, second baseman Danny Espinosa to the right. Yet another newcomer, outfielder Cameron Maybin, is just a couple of stalls away.
They’re part of a makeover intended to help the Angels bounce back from a 74-88 finish, their worst since 1999, and ideally get Mike Trout back to the playoffs.
Entering his sixth full season at 25, Trout has more MVP awards than postseason appearances, two-to-one. He has five times as many All-Star Game invites and three times as many runner-up finishes in the MVP race as trips to the playoffs.
The personal achievements are great, but the lack of team success must be getting old.
“It’s frustrating, for sure,’’ said Trout, pointing to a rash of injuries to the pitching staff as a prime reason for last year’s pratfall. “You want to get to the playoffs. It’s fun. You’ve seen the World Series last year. You want to be in that atmosphere.’’
Several things would have to go right for Trout to experience the playoff vibe again this season. Years of neglecting the farm system while spending lavishly and often unwisely on free agents – Josh Hamilton didn’t pan out, and C.J. Wilson only in his first two seasons – have put the Angels in a bind.
They don’t have much help coming from the minors, and only enough room in the budget for modest additions.
Second-year general manager Billy Eppler made some opportunistic moves in the offseason, trading for Maybin, Espinosa and catcher Martin Maldonado. He also signed free agents Ben Revere, Jesse Chavez and Valbuena, the latter costing the most at $15 million over two years.
It’s debatable whether that will be enough to contend in a division where the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers loom as favorites. Los Angeles likely will need starting pitchers Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker to make strong comebacks from serious injuries to have a fighting chance.
“We feel like we’re going to be competitive and need to stay healthy, and we have to play well in our division,’’ owner Arte Moreno said. “The Astros should be better, Seattle’s Seattle, and Texas won a lot of one-run games, thirtysomething one-run games. It’s pretty hard to repeat that.’’
Regardless of whether the odds are stacked in their favor or against, the Angels can count on Trout maintaining an optimistic outlook, at least publicly.
In his first media session of the spring Saturday, the reigning AL MVP expressed a desire to steal 40 bases, revealed slightly longer hair – “Some of my teammates complained that I had the same buzz cut since third grade’’ – and confirmed he would not play in the World Baseball Classic, although he would not discuss why.
He also gave a hearty approval to the Eppler’s additions, especially Maybin, who will play alongside him in left.
“Cam’s obviously fast,’’ Trout said. “I got to see him play when he was with Detroit. He brings a lot to the table. Last year we were trying to fill some holes in left field. … It’s going to be fun. The outfield’s going to be fast.’’
After his stolen-base total dwindled from a career-best of 49 as a rookie in 2012 to 11 in 2015, Trout returned to his aggressive ways on the basepaths last season, swiping 30. He also led the league with 116 walks and a .441 on-base percentage while batting .315 with 29 homers and 100 RBI on the way to his second MVP award in three years.
In addition, Trout cut down his strikeouts from 184 in 2014 to 137 last year, an indication of his ability to keep improving even when he’s at the game’s top echelon. Teammates marvel at the way Trout answers the bell night after night – he has played at least 157 games in each of the last four seasons – while remaining remarkably consistent. In that four-year span, Trout has produced an on-base-plus slugging percentage of between .988 and .991 three times.
“He’s the best player in the game and it shows on an everyday basis, that’s the thing that’s most important and special about him,’’ right fielder Kole Calhoun said. “He doesn’t take it for granted. He tries to win, he’s there to work every day and he wants to be in the lineup every day. That’s the making of one of the all-time greats in this game.’’
Now, if only fans could see him in the postseason.
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