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Special Book Excerpt: The Search for the Next Mickey Mantle (2 of 3)

December

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Author Barry Sparks has a great new book, The Search for the Next Mickey Mantle. With permission from his publisher, Sunbury Press and the author, we share this special excerpt. This is one of three excerpts we are sharing here at SSTN.

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MIKE TROUT THE COMPLETE PACKAGE


Mike Trout is a player people will be talking about 100 years after we’re dead.

—Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves


Mike Trout is baseball royalty. His achievements put him in a class with Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle. If the 31-year-old retired from baseball tomorrow, he would still likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.


The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Los Angeles Angels outfielder began to forge his regal status in 2012 when he became the youngest player (20 years old) to be named unanimous Rookie of the Year in the American League. He also finished second to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting.


Entering the 2022 season, Trout owned three Most Valuable Player Awards. He has been runner-up four times, fourth once, and fifth once. He appeared in eight consecutive All-Star Games from 2012-2019 and was named the Most Valuable Player twice.


Combining speed and power, Trout has led the American League in on-base percentage (OBP), on-base percentage plus slugging average (OPS), runs scored four times, slugging average and walks three times, RBI and stolen bases once.


Former Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “Mike’s a special player. There isn’t anything he can’t do. He hits for average, gets on base, can steal a base, hits for power, and is a tremendous defensive asset."


Trout distinguished himself as one of baseball’s all-time elite players from the outset.


In 2018, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke observed, “He’s been the best player since he’s been in the majors. He’s never not been the best player.”


In retrospect, it’s surprising Trout wasn’t selected until the 25th pick in the 2009 major league amateur draft. Twenty-one teams passed on him. The Washington Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks passed on him twice. Six players selected ahead of him never made it to the major leagues.


Trout began attracting attention from traveling team baseball coaches when he was 11. Although he played on one of the premier traveling teams in the Northeast and competed in several high-profile showcase tournaments, his baseball schedule was limited, particularly compared to players in warm-weather states.


As a senior at Millville (New Jersey) Senior High, Trout, a center fielder, batted .531 with a state-record 18 homers and 45 RBI in 26 games. An all-around athlete, he also played football and basketball. Before his senior year, he pitched (he once threw an 18-strikeout nohitter) and played shortstop. He signed a letter of intent to play baseball at East Carolina University.


While he was on the scouts’ radar, he didn’t jump out as clearly superior to other prospects. Angels scout Greg Morhardt, however, felt he had found a so-good-it’s-hard-to-believe diamond. He claimed Trout was the fastest and strongest 17-year-old he had ever seen.


“I think I have Mickey Mantle up here,” he told one scout.3 He initially gave Trout such a high overall future potential (OFP) grade that he intentionally downgraded it for fear he wouldn’t be taken seriously by the organization.


Trout was built like a linebacker with explosive speed, power, good instincts, and plate discipline. He was timed from home to first base in 3.9 seconds, impressive for a right-handed batter.


Despite his traits and performance, a Northeast bias may have worked against him in the draft. Ten of the 11 high school players selected ahead of him were from warm-weather states, where year-round baseball was common. Besides a limited high school schedule, Trout’s competition was of questionable quality. New Jersey wasn’t known for producing topnotch prospects. Third baseman Billy Rowell of Pennsauken, N.J., selected ninth by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2006 draft, was floundering in the minors and his chances of reaching the major leagues looked slim.


After being drafted by the Los Angeles Angels, Trout quickly signed for a $1.2 million bonus. Confident of his abilities, the 17-year-old was eager to start his professional baseball career. The draft supplied him with extra motivation. Although he didn’t discuss it at the time, he reflected on his draft position years later. “A lot of people doubted me,” he said. “I just try to prove them wrong each and every day.”


The Angels assigned him to the Arizona Rookie League, where he batted .360 in 39 games before being promoted to Class Low A Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League for five games.


Before the start of the 2010 season, Baseball America ranked Trout the 85th top prospect. By midseason, however, he had rocketed to the number two prospect on the publication’s rankings. Playing for Cedar Rapids, the young outfielder blistered opposing pitchers. In early July, he led the Midwest League in batting, runs, hits, stolen bases, on-base percentage (OBP), second in on-base percentage plus slugging (OPS), and fourth in slugging. He had not made an error and had thrown out six runners. He also was named to compete in the 2010 Futures Game at Anaheim Stadium on July 11. After the game, the Angels promoted him to Class High A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the California League.


Cedar Rapids General Manager Jack Roeder said, “I’ve been in the minor leagues for 30 years, and he’s the best player I’ve been associated with. He’s a five-tool player. He’s the total package.”


Trout’s quick, overwhelming success surprised many people, even those in the Angels organization. Abe Flores, the Angels’ director of player development, said Trout’s incredible mental game and winning attitude, combined with phenomenal tools, made him a future star. “Mike’s intangibles exceed his abilities, and that’s special,” he said.


The Angels’ prospect appeared on the cover of the July 12-25 issue of Baseball America. He is shown chasing a fly ball under the headline “Angel in the Outfield.” In the article, Cedar Rapids hitting coach Brent Del Chiaro compared him to Tigers centerfielder Austin Jackson and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson

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