Friday, July 8, 2011

Young Talent

In light of Angels outfield prospect Mike Trout's promotion to the majors I thought it applicable to discuss the best young talent in baseball.  MLB teams face difficult choices when young players succeed in minor leagues to the point at which they reach the cusp of the Majors.  Trout is 19 years old, young even for Major League Baseball.  Not all players are created equal, thus this promotion could be a great success for the Angels organization and Trout.  The opposing view, that Trout is too young and needs more minor league experience, may be more popular amongst pundits and experts alike, but as one scout said of Trout, "You can put Trout as the main entree. He's ready." (according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports)  

Overall, major league clubs must decide if a player is both baseball deserves a promotion as well as mature enough to handle the speed, excitement, disappointment, and media frenzy surrounding the majors. Trout seems to have the talent for the majors.  In 75 games at AA Arkansas he sported a .324 batting average, .415 on-base percentage, .950 OPS, collecting 94 hits, scoring 69 runs, hitting 9 home runs, knocking in 27 rbi, stealing 28 bases, and collecting 38 walks.  Trout has plate discipline, a knak for getting on base, some power, speed on the bases, and a tendency to produce runs.  The Angels need help in many of these categories  relying on the dynamic pitching of Dan Haren, Jared Weaver, and Jordan Walden to propel them to one game behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West.  The Angels rank 11th in the AL in both runs scored and team OBP, both of which are below the league average.  Mike Scioscia's teams usually play small ball.  They steal bases, walk, and sacrifice in order to win.  Trout's stats show he will fit into this style of play perfectly, giving the Angels another weapon on the base paths and at the plate.

The three most prominent young players currently in the majors are Starlin Castro of the Cubs, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward of the Braves, and Mike Stanton of the Marlins.  None of these players was born after March of 1990 where as Trout is a whole year younger.  Castro's career began on a high note going 2-5 with 6 rbi a home run and a triple in his MLB debut.  He continues to impress and improve.  Castro hits for a high average, gets on base, and despite not putting it all together defensively he has an unbelievable arm and above average range at shortstop.  Jason Heyward has proven to be a great mix of power and speed from the left side of the plate with a very good arm and speed in the outfield.  Freddie Freeman, like Heyward, has shown immense power to all fields and the ability to play a good first base.  Mike Stanton may possess more power than Heyward and Freeman combined, his mammoth home runs continue to amaze baseball fans everywhere.   He shows speed and a cannon-like arm in right field, but his propensity to strike out too often constricts his assent to complete hitter status.  

The Angels selected Trout out of high school with the 25th pick in the first round of the 2009 MLB draft.  Two other big name prospects taken directly from high school in the same round and draft as Trout include Donavan Tate of the Padres and Shelby Miller of the Cardinals.  Tate would probably find himself in the big leagues had he not been plagued with the injury bug and a suspension for PED's.  Miller is a pitcher for an organization that sports a healthy and talented pitching staff.  Due to these circumstances, neither player has cracked the major leagues, but both remain very close.  For another bit of perspective go no further than Ken Griffey Jr.  Brought up as a 19 year old, Jr. compiled 61 rbi, 19 home runs, 120 hits, 61 runs scored, a .264 batting average, and .329 on-base percentage in 127 game played.  He finished 2nd in rookie of the year voting and the next year he made the all star team as a 20 year old.  With 73 games left in the season, Trout could produce for the team, but we will not know his true potential until he starts at least as many games as Griffey played in his inaugural season.

Trout may become a huge major league star, touting god-like numbers in the stat columns as well as in his bank account.  On the other hand he may be over rated, and never make any impact in the Majors.  There exist a number of other scenarios in between those two, but for the #2 ranked prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America, he has high expectations to meet.   Personally I hope Trout finds success in the majors even if it isn't stardom because the let down that would befall him were to fail would crush any man's spirit.  These complicated and difficult decisions fall to the general manager and his many associates; to them I wish good luck because bringing up a 19 year is a gutsy move.  Trout is not the first talented youngster to be thrown into the majors before his 20th birthday and he will not be the last, so until then we can only watch and see.  

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