SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Watch out, American League pitchers. Mike Trout’s swing is getting back to where he wants it to be after what he called a “frustrating” 2020 season.
Of course, it was only a down year by Trout’s lofty standards, as the three-time AL MVP and eight-time All-Star batted .281/.390/.603 with 17 homers and 46 RBIs in 53 games in the shortened season, finishing fifth in the balloting for AL MVP. But more than the numbers, Trout said he never felt quite right at the plate, and he’s worked in the offseason and this spring to get his former swing back.
"I was cutting off my swing really bad," Trout said via Zoom on Thursday. "I figured out some drills I could do and stuff to keep me square at the plate. It's getting there, seems like [some] at-bats I feel good, some not, but I'm happy with the direction it's going. I figured out how to fix it. It's refreshing to know what I need to do to get it right."
Trout, 29, explained part of the reason why it was hard for him to correct his swing was because he strangely has two different ones -- one with a leg kick he uses in games and one without the leg kick he uses in batting practice.
Even Trout doesn’t understand why that’s the case but it’s the way his swing has been his entire career. The adrenaline of being in the batter’s box on the big stage brings out the leg kick, and now Trout is starting to put it all together more consistently at the plate.
"I couldn't tell you why," Trout said with a laugh. "I ask the hitting coaches all the time. No leg kick in practice, like in the cage, and when I do it, it feels weird. In the game, it feels natural."
The Angels have had Trout utilize something the club has called the “Ohtani drill,” as it was created by the club’s hitting coaches to help Shohei Ohtani not pull off the ball last year. It was a major issue last season for Ohtani, who struggled and batted .190/.291/.366 with seven homers and 24 RBIs in 44 games.
Both Ohtani and Trout have been using that drill in practice to great effect, as Ohtani has been the star of Spring Training, and Trout has been heating up at the plate as the regular season nears.
“It’s just something that helps [me] not step across my body,” Trout said. “It’s kind of a drill where Shohei was battling last year, and he was doing what I've been doing -- cutting in and coming across his body. It's nothing crazy. You just don't step across your body."
Trout, though, said getting that feel at the plate also shows the importance of the mental side of baseball. Hitting is so difficult that you have to be in the right frame of mind to have success.
Fortunately, Trout said he learned early in his career how to block out everything and focus on just hitting the ball at the plate. And now that his swing is feeling better, it helps ease his mind as well.
“You’ve got to have one thing in your mind and that's squaring up the ball at the plate," Trout said. “You can't have other stuff in your mind. The mental side is huge in this game. Positive thoughts [have] always been big for me. For me, it's a lot of visualization before it actually happens. Visualizing you're going to get a hit and visualizing squaring a ball up. You have to walk up to the plate knowing you're not going to get out. If you have any doubts about your swing, you're going to get out."
Trout is also carrying those positive thoughts about the Angels this season, as he believes this club is built to contend and make the postseason for the first time since 2014. Despite all his accolades, Trout has been to the playoffs only once in his 10-year career and has never won a playoff game.
Trout admitted earlier in the spring that the lack of postseason success has been wearing on him, and he’s ready to change that narrative, much like Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw did when he finally won a World Series last year.
"That's the goal for me," Trout said. "Obviously, we want to get there and be successful. The question every year is, ‘How are we going to get Mike to the playoffs?’ But it's a team thing. We all want to get to the playoffs. If it happens this year, then I'll answer those questions after that. We have one goal and that's to win the World Series. I haven't done that yet, so we'll take it one step at a time and get to the playoffs and see what happens."