Like many things in life, an athlete aging before your eyes can make one feel old. I remember where I was when I saw Trout’s debut. I was home, still in high school watching someone slightly older than me do the things I dreamt about since I could walk.
Sure, 2011 Mike Trout was nothing more than a 19 year old who had more promise than hits. He was fast and could defend well, but he was more like Reggie Willits than, you know, Mike Trout.
He famously was the only player at the first televised MLB Draft and had to hear 24 names go by before he was drafted. So much has been said on the subject that to repeat it here would be redundant. Instead of repeating that, I want to try a different angle, Mike Trout changed how teams view the draft.
Yes, Mike Trout and his success, his story, the whole thing changed how teams view the draft. In the past, in the long long ago, back before the current system and the system before that, the MLB draft had extra picks for teams based on free agents leaving. These were rather arbitrary based on how good the player was. You could get an extra first round pick or a later pick or none at all depending on it.
No one cared much about these. Seriously. K-Rod and Mark Teixeira leaving the Angels was worth more than picks 24 and 25 in the 2009 MLB draft in the Angels’ eyes, and frankly everyone else’s. Drafts were a crapshoot, and the player won’t make an impact for years down the line if ever. That is what separates MLB from the other major sports.
With the launch of MLB Network, Bud Selig tried to elevate the draft. He wanted people to care about it. But people did not. Draftees famously found out in a newspaper or a phone call out of nowhere when they were drafted, sometimes in the late late rounds that do not even exist anymore. Bud wanted to change that, get fans excited about the future. There was one problem though, you can’t force it.
Mike Trout was the only one who came. As he lived nearby, it wasn’t that far, and with the reputation of the draft and the location of basically every other top pick being hundreds and thousands of miles away, it was really no surprise in hindsight.
The Top Prospect
What really changed the view of the draft was how much of a miss Mike Trout was to everyone. He rose quickly through the levels and was the top prospect for 2011. Along with the stacked 2009 draft, Mike Trout put the Angels into a golden opportunity. But Angels fans have seen this before.
Brandon Wood is infamously one of the biggest busts in baseball history and his name is a constant reminder for Angels fans when it came to hype. To the trained eye it was evident why one failed and one became a legend, but to most fans, all they see is prospect rankings and the hype.
So as Mike Trout caught headlines and moved up rankings, there was hype, but also caution. Sure, a speedy outfielder is a safer bet than an infielder with raw power, but there was already Perter Bourjos, Trout would have to play a corner if he was to be called up.
As Mike Trout made his debut and had his rookie eligibility stay in tact barely, get sick in April and finally appear again in 2012 to put on one of the best seasons ever, all that fear and caution got tossed to the wind. It was that insane 2012 that changed the draft.
The OG Mike Trout
Ah yes, 2012, Mike Trout’s only 30-30 season. It is still my favorite version. The speed, the defense, the power, it was all there. His MVP argument was on being a complete player, a player he would never be again. Sabermetrics say he should have won. His age and the team performance means he lost.
You can tell that the draft changed after 2012. While people did show up for 2010 and 2011 due to the hype with Harper and more players getting used to it, Mike Trout’s arrival changed how teams viewed draft picks. The system was changed with the qualifying offer to make things simple for teams signing, but that became a huge negative.
While before teams signed and lost draft picks without much care, now caution and uneasiness were everywhere. Sure late 20’s draft picks don’t yield much value usually, but what if it is the next Mike Trout? His 2012 season opened the door for the best prospects to be MLB ready faster and faster. Harper, Betts, Acuña Jr, Tatis Jr, Vlad Jr, MLB hasn’t seen such young rookies be ready so fast in years.
Hording draft picks and prospects rose greatly. So much that the rules had to be changed again to make the draft picks for QO be the 2nd round pick instead. Mike Trout did that. His 30-30 season leading MLB in runs and stolen bases did that. The youth movement was here and Mike Trout kick started it.
Phenoms came and went but the ones who stayed the best were one thing, consistent. That is what made Trout different from the rest of the best players this millennium. From 2012-2016 Mike Trout averaged a .300/.400/.500 season with 33 bombs and 28 bags and 9.3 Baseball reference WAR per season. Even the top players over the past 10 years have at most 1 season like that.
Despite getting hurt in 2017, Mike Trouts worst season, he still only bottomed out at 6.9 BWAR from 2012-2019. Nolan Arenado had only 1 season more than that. Harper had only 1. Judge had only 1. Machado had 2. Every year a new player would perform well and be Mike Trout’s “new rival” but none has the consistency to even play like 2017 Trout let alone 2012 Trout.
Despite not playing much at all in 2021, and having an injury season in 2017, Mike Trout still has more Fangraphs WAR over number 2 Betts than Betts has over number 18 Justin Turner since 2014. Mike Trout is a historic player even if his late 20’s has not been kind to his body.
Seriously, Mike Trout comparisons need to be done with the best in the game’s history. Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and babe Ruth. All other comparisons to his peers are useless.
It is rather unfair to put guys like Machado, Harper, and Betts against Trout. They may make the HOF in the future, but Trout is already there if he never plays again.
Players do not tend to do well after 30 unless they are cheating. Things got skewed by the PED era on how players are supposed to do. Now more than ever, vets cannot keep up production even half of what they did in their 20’s. Can Mike Trout be different? Maybe. Legends age better than mortals, but still, things do not look great.
Ken Griffey Jr famously never was the same after he left Seattle. His 30’s were so much of a disaster that worth wise he added almost nothing at all.
With multiple years missing and so much of his prime gone, I fear for Mike Trout. It is very rare to see the line g up again when it starts to plateau. A move off of CF may help but 10 WAR Trout may be a thing of the past.
I already fear he may not be a 300-300 player. He has been stuck around 200 SB for years now and rarely steals anymore. With his health issues lately, even getting 250 may be out of the question.
Enjoy Mike Trout when you can, hopefully this year when he comes back. Time stops for no one, even the greatest fish of all time.