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Trout's HS coach surprised by degree of success

Says he was a 'special player' but lacked track record entering Draft
MLB.com @feinsand

MILLVILLE, N.J. -- If you find it impossible to believe that 21 teams passed up the opportunity to select Mike Trout in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft, consider this: Trout's own high school coach probably wouldn't have taken him that high, either.

Roy Hallenbeck knew Trout was a special player during his four years at Millville High School, but the longtime head coach admitted that there were enough questions hovering around Trout to prevent him from being a no-brainer pick for any of the teams that opted to select another player.

MILLVILLE, N.J. -- If you find it impossible to believe that 21 teams passed up the opportunity to select Mike Trout in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft, consider this: Trout's own high school coach probably wouldn't have taken him that high, either.

Roy Hallenbeck knew Trout was a special player during his four years at Millville High School, but the longtime head coach admitted that there were enough questions hovering around Trout to prevent him from being a no-brainer pick for any of the teams that opted to select another player.

"He hadn't played the outfield for very long; he was a shortstop and pitcher his whole life," Hallenbeck said. "We moved him to the outfield his senior year, so he had maybe 30 games under his belt as an outfielder. His swing was a little raw; very aggressive and very strong, but a little raw, so there were questions about whether or not that would clean up and if he could hit. 

"The only certainty was the athleticism. If you're going to take somebody that high, if that doesn't work out -- it was an unsafe pick for guys. If somebody took him high and he didn't pan out, he didn't really have the track record to back it up. Guys lose their jobs over that."

Video: Millville locals talk about Trout's early career

The Angels owned the Nos. 24 and 25 picks in the first round, and while they were very high on Trout, team executives didn't think he would still be on the board when it was time for them to pick.

"You're just hoping, can Mike somehow get to 24 and 25?" Greg Morhardt, the Angels' area scout, told MLB Network.

One by one, players went off the board.

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After the Nationals selected Stephen Strasburg with the first pick, the Mariners took Dustin Ackley second. Zack Wheeler, Mike Leake, Drew Storen, A.J. Pollock and Shelby Miller were among the other players taken among the first 19 picks.

As their turn grew closer, the Angels began to believe they had a chance. With the No. 24 pick, the Angels selected Randal Grichuk. One pick later, they reeled in Trout.

"People messed up," Eddie Bane, the Angels' scouting director at the time, told MLB Network. "He shouldn't have been there at 25, but we'll gladly take him."

Two American League Most Valuable Player Awards, one AL Rookie of the Year Award and five All-Star selections later, it's clear that Trout was the best player in his Draft class, but Hallenbeck doesn't blame those 21 other teams for going in a different direction.

"Hindsight is 20-20, but it's hard to look into the future," Hallenbeck said. "People have to go by track records. Ackley went No. 2; he had a long track record [as a three-year standout at University of North Carolina]. If he flamed out, it would be very easy to say, 'Look what we went off of; he was a safe pick.' If you pick Mike and he flames out, never gets out of Rookie ball or Class A ball and somebody asks, 'What did you see that made you pick him?' You'd say, 'He was fast.' The track record wasn't there yet, so it was a little risky."

Hallenbeck wasn't surprised to see Trout take steps forward during his high school career, but the growth he displayed each year as a teenager -- and virtually every year since then -- is what has made him the generational player he's become.

Video: Mike Trout's Draft story on MLB Central

"Every high school kid makes a big jump at some point from one offseason to the next season; that's just their growth spurt," Hallenbeck said. "Mike did it every year. Then he left here and he kept doing that. It was like, 'Are you kidding me? Where's the plateau?' He just never hit it."

Now 25 years old, has Trout finally hit that plateau?

"I don't think so," Hallenbeck said. "Before he got hurt, this year was his best yet. I don't understand. We're just going to sit back and keep enjoying it."

Executives from those 21 teams have surely been kicking themselves ever since Trout debuted in the big leagues, opening his career with a historic five-year run. They clearly didn't envision the Millville native becoming the best player in the game, but neither did the man who watched him play every game of his high school career.

"Not at all. Anybody that says they did is lying to you, because if that was the case, he would have been [the first overall pick]," Hallenbeck said. "It's certainly been fun watching him the rest of the way, that's for sure."

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

Los Angeles Angels, Mike Trout