Philadelphia, PA – Everyone knew it was just a matter of time before the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were going to start playing to their potential.
What most didn't see coming, though, was that it would be a 20-year-old outfielder, who would be the one keying the turnaround. But that is exactly what is happening as Mike Trout has been the driving force behind the Angels' surge up the standings.
Heading into action this weekend, manager Mike Scioscia's club finds themselves four games over .500 at 34-30 and just three games back of the AL West-leading Texas Rangers. Not bad considering the Angels were a mere 6-14 when Trout was called up from Triple-A Salt Lake City.
The former first-round pick's heroics were on display this past week when the Angels took two of three from crosstown rivals and the major league-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, especially in Monday's opener. Trout had already homered and drove in the game-tying RBI before working a walk in the ninth, stealing second and scoring the winning run.
Setting the table atop the Angels' lineup, Trout is batting .341 with six home runs, 26 RBI, 25 runs scored. His average will be among the league leaders once he hits the required number of plate appearances, but his 16 stolen bases already top the AL despite the fact he played only 42 of Los Angeles' 64 games.
He's hitting .403 since May 26 and his OPS is off the charts at 1.054.
"He has played just about as good as anybody in the league since he's been called up," Angels pitcher Dan Haren said.
So why wasn't he with the team at the start?
Well, for one he was blocked in the outfield thanks to the enormous contract of underachieving Vernon Wells, but he really never had a shot at starting the season with the big club. Thanks to a viral infection and a shoulder issue, Trout had just six exhibition-game at-bats.
Maybe there is some sort of East Coast bias, but Washington rookie Bryce Harper seems to be getting most of the attention this year for his play, despite the fact that Trout has clearly had the bigger impact on his team. Washington was already a first-place team well before Harper hit town and it has been the Nationals' pitching for the most part that has kept them there.
You can actually make a case for Trout not only being the top rookie in the AL, but he also may be on the short list of MVP candidates.
Yet, like Harper, he's nowhere to be found among the league's Top 15 outfielders in the most recent balloting update revealed this week. Granted, he's not on the ballot and would need to be a write-in, and considering that a player hasn't opened a game in that capacity since Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey in 1974, chances are Trout won't, either.
But, he should be there. And so should Harper. It's probably a topic for another day, but the All-Star Game is a showcase for the fans. What better way to promote your game then having two of its youngest stars there.
Again, we'll discuss that as we get closer to the game, but rookies in general, have a hard time making the game. Starting it anyway.
Since Fernando Valenzuela started the 1981 Mid-Summer Classic, only seven players have gone on to open the game. And four of those players - Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Kosuke Fukudome - already had played professionally in Japan.
The only others are Angels first baseman Wally Joyner in 1986, Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar in 1990 and Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto in 2008.
All-Star Game or not, Trout has already left a lasting impression on this season. Left for dead by some in early May, the Angels are definitely back in the mix in the AL.
Trout will turn 21 on Aug. 7. Is anyone going to be surprised if he's leading off for a first-place team that day?