Trout set to become face of baseball post-Jeter
Angels center fielder has what it takes on, off field to take reins from the Captain
TEMPE, Ariz. -- When one door closes, another one opens -- at least we hope it does, right?
No one in Major League Baseball wants to see Derek Jeter walk away at the end of this season. But if the planets continue to align like this, we'll have a ready-made replacement as the face of the sport in Mike Trout.
"I try to always do the right thing on and off the field," Trout said. "I stay out of trouble."
Trout was working out with the Angels for the first time this spring as Jeter met with reporters in Florida, discussing his decision to retire. Trout, who played shortstop for three years at Millville Senior High School before switching to center field, said he was once a Jeter wannabe himself.
Like many others in southern New Jersey, he rooted for the Phillies while also paying attention to the Yankees -- the Captain in particular.
"Jeter, growing up, he was my role model," Trout said. "Seeing what he's done over the last 25 years, it's remarkable. I wish him the best. ... He's always been my favorite player to watch -- just the way he carries himself on and off the field. Wins championships. It all comes down to winning. You can have all the best stats in the world, but if you're not winning, it really doesn't mean anything."
Trout says he was 10 or 11 when he first paid attention to Jeter, who by then had started his collection of World Series rings and annual trips to the All-Star Game. Those were Yankees teams with Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Chuck Knoblauch and Jorge Posada, among others.
"I would look at the Yankees, and they had a lot of great players," Trout said. "But I would look at the lineup, look at them on the field, and you could see the shortstop, Derek Jeter, was the best player. The way he carried himself, the big plays he made over the years, the rings he's won, it's incredible."
When Jeter announced his retirement a week ago, D-backs general manager Kevin Towers was asked how the Yankees could replace him.
"I don't know if you'll ever find another Jeter," Towers said. "It's a hard question to answer. ... Those players are hard to find. It's like Tony Gwynn. When are you going to find the next Tony Gwynn? Never. If you ask me about Jeter, probably never. That good of a guy? That good of a player? ... Awesome player, clutch player, great role model, incredible character, great makeup. There's really no weakness."
Trout's only 22. He's played fewer than three full seasons, so, yes, it's premature to crown him -- or anyone -- the second coming of Jeter. But he's already been the metric (if not actual) MVP of the American League in back-to-back seasons, and he seems to be cut from similar cloth as his one-time idol.
"Mike's a fabulous player," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "He's terrifically talented, but more than that, he's a hard worker, he's humble and he's a great teammate. I don't think if you walked into the clubhouse you'd know this was the guy doing all the things he's doing. That's a remarkable thing itself."
Nineteen years old when he made his debut for the Angels in 2011, Trout stunned everyone watching with his performance in '12, when he hit .326 with 30 home runs and a .399 on-base percentage while leading the AL with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored. He answered questions about the dreaded sophomore slump by hitting .323 with 27 home runs, 75 extra-base hits, a .432 on-base percentage and an AL-high 110 walks in a lineup that hasn't delivered as it could due to the problems encountered by Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
"When he's hot, which seems to be most of the time, it's tough to pitch around [him] because he could be on third base before you know it," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. "They have some guys to hit behind him. He's a very difficult guy to deal with. You have to try to keep him off base. You have to throw him strikes, and you know it probably doesn't get much easier behind him. ... They put him in a good spot to keep him insulated."
While Trout is in scoring position every time he steps to the plate, it's his speed and appetite for getting on base that makes him such a force. Infielders know that if they're not on their toes, he will embarrass them.
"Probably the [plays] that make me shake my head the most are little toppers he hits, a tweener, that no one ever has a chance to make a play on," Dipoto said. "He's going to beat it out to first base. For a guy who is going to hit 30 home runs, that's a remarkable trait, to be able to hit a 20-hopper in the infield and they can't throw you out."
Like Jeter, there's no self-promotion with Trout. He doesn't have that gene. But he understands the responsibility that comes with having his ability, and he holds himself accountable.
He got a bang out of being called MLB's "Swiss army knife" by President Barack Obama earlier this month and didn't mind coming to Arizona a couple of days early to shoot commercials for Nike. But he said nothing on Wednesday that would fuel speculation he is seeking a massive contract -- $200 million? $300 million? -- only 336 games into his career.
Trout arrived fit and ready after a winter spent working with his personal training between hunting and fishing trips. The highlight, he said, was a trip to the Caribbean island Saint Lucia, where he said he and his father caught "wahoo and a barracuda."
While Trout uses his combination of speed and power to do amazing things on the field, he can be as wide-eyed at times as those watching him.
"I really can't explain the last couple years of my life," he said. "It's been great. [I'm] having fun doing it. This is where I wanted to be as a kid growing up. I'm taking full advantage of it. No better place to be right now."
Just keep doing what you're doing, kid.