With the Angel's AA affiliate Arkansas Traveler's finishing up their last game of the half today, I thought I'd take a deeper look at their star CF Mike Trout, a consensus 1st or 2nd overall prospect. What I wanted to do was compare his minor league numbers with some comparable major league stars of the past 20 years. I looked at six traits Trout has shown up to this point:
1. High batting Average
Trout's hitting .325 this season and .339 overall in his minor league career, numbers supplemented by...
2. High walk totals
Rather than just hack his way on like former Angels top prospect Howie Kendrick, Trout's shows a superb eye, drawing 88 walks per 162 games. His patients elevates his OBP to .426 overall, virtually identical with his 2011 total.
3. High Stolen Base Totals
Of all Trout's skills, his speed is most evident. He rates an 80 (out of 80) on the speed scale in scouting reports, like Peter Bourjos, unusual due to his 220 pound frame. His instincts are solid as well, with a stolen base percentage near 80% this season and overall.
4. Moderate Power
Trout came up as a slap hitter but as his build suggests, his home run totals should increase. In fact, they already have, as he's hit just one fewer home run than all of last year and over 162 games would eclipse 20. I do see him as a 25 home run type down the line, although unless his speed slackens, I wouldn't expect him to emerge as an all-out slugger.
Trout's development has been rapid. Drafted at the age of 17, he's already in AA, two years younger than any of his teammates. Were Trout's progression to remain constant, he'd be playing in the majors at the age of 20, unusual overall but more common among high-level players.
6. He plays CF
More recent analytic readings have shown how important one's position is when looking at contribution. A .300/.400/.500 line means far more coming from a SS than it does a 1B. Trout, playing the relatively difficult CF and playing it well, adds to his value. A later transition to the corner outfield to suit Peter Bourjos' glove would require more offense to maintain his value, but for now, Trout's a CF and there haven't been many great ones in years.
Below are seven players who share most of his traits, although like Bill James said, a great player is generally unique. I mean, try comparing Willie Mays to someone. Hopefully, Trout will emerge as a big leaguer with his own skill sets not quite shared by anyone else.
|2009||17||2 Teams||2 Lgs||Rk-A||LAA||44||207||179||30||63||7||7||1||25||13||2||22||34||.352||.419||.486||.905|
|2010||18||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A-A+||LAA||131||600||508||106||173||28||9||10||58||56||15||73||85||.341||.428||.490||.918|
Carlos Beltran: 58.9 WAR over 14 seasons
|1996||19||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A--A||KCR||70||294||257||32||64||10||3||7||29||11||2||32||76||.249||.330||.393||.723|
Beltran is about as underrated as an 18 million dollar a year player can get. While his Mets career looks uneven, Beltran's proven to be strong in just about every category, including GG-caliber CF defense. So that's what makes his early minor league totals look so off. Nothing stands out. He didn't get on base, he didn't hit for power, didn't run...Even his K/BB rates were pedestrian. It wasn't until his age 21 season split between A and AA that things took off and he posted a .313/.394/..553 line in 99 games before a desperate Royals team brought him up and he took ROY honors in 1999. But it took him another year afterward to really adjust and become the 30-30 threat with a good eye. And Trout, as we can see, is clearly ahead of Beltran's pace in every category.
Bernie Williams: 47.3 WAR over 16 seasons
|1987||18||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A--A||NYY||50||200||164||24||43||7||0||0||19||18||4||28||36||.262||.381||.305||.686|
|1989||20||2 Teams||2 Lgs||AA-AAA||NYY||141||578||476||84||114||19||9||13||58||37||18||85||110||.239||.362||.399||.761|
Williams didn't become regular with the Yankees until the age of 24 or a star until the age of 26, but he did have a quick run through the Yankee system, at least initially. His age 19 season was stellar and pretty similar to what Trout did in his age 18 season. But Williams hit the skids a little the next year, although his high walk rate suggested a rebound. Williams put up a .409 OBP the next season back in AA and slowly made his way into the Yankee lineup. But he does prove that even eventual All-Stars can have bumps in the road and certain derailments.
B.J. Upton: 14.8 WAR over 7 seasons
|2003||18||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A-AA||TBD||130||580||489||84||145||30||6||8||62||40||21||73||105||.297||.390||.431||.821|
|2004||19||2 Teams||2 Lgs||AAA-AA||TBD||98||433||368||86||116||24||2||14||51||20||5||56||100||.315||.410||.505||.915|
B.J. Upton, unlike his budding star brother Justin, proves how excess expectations can make even a solid career disappointing. Initially a SS with brutal defensive numbers, he was moved to CF in 2007 and put up a 4.7 WAR and looked better on offense and comfortable with the glove for the first time. Now 26, it doesn't look like Upton will be a superstar, and some of the signs were there in the minors. His K totals were high and he never hit for great power. Still, a .315/.410/.505 line as a 19 year old primarily in AAA is pretty awesome. His stolen base % was improving, he showed good gap power, and the walks were there. But Upton's swing and miss totals have been a major problem in the majors and keep his OBP down. In fact, all his other numbers are pretty comparable to that last AAA season in 2005: He averages 17 home runs, 76 walks, and 40 stolen bases per 162 games. Trout, with a high K total this season, may follow in Upton's footsteps.
Andruw Jones: 59.3 WAR over 16 seasons
|1994||17||2 Teams||2 Lgs||Rk||ATL||63||269||238||42||69||14||3||3||26||21||11||25||44||.290||.368||.412||.780|
|1996||19||3 Teams||3 Lgs||A+-AA-AAA||ATL||116||511||445||115||151||27||5||34||92||30||10||60||97||.339||.421||.652||1.072|
Jones, like Griffey Jr. below, is a poster boy for young success in the majors. And it's easy to see why he made the talented Braves roster so quickly. Big power, big speed, solid batting average, some walks, plus that spectacular defense that had him save 28 runs more than average in his rookie season. I think Jones has more power than Trout ever will, but he only hit .300 once as a big leaguer, something Trout looks to do in his sleep. While Jones did hit .339 in his final minor league year, his BA was more pedestrian beforehand. Trout's hit .300 at every level with more walks and fewer strikeouts. But until his weight ballooned and Atlanta dumped him, Jones put up HOF numbers with the glove and very good ones with the bat.
Ken Griffey Jr.: 78.5 WAR over 22 seasons
|1988||18||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A-AA||SEA||75||324||280||60||91||18||4||13||52||36||11||39||51||.325||.415||.557||.972|
The joke is that every power arm from Texas is the next Nolan Ryan. Well, every hot CF is the next Ken Griffey Jr., a superstar prospect taken #1 overall by the Mariners as a 17 year old and someone who flat out dominated in his brief stint in the minors. Although, except for the extra power numbers, he looks pretty similar to Trout. Trout actually has the same OBP as Griffey and his steal totals are roughly equal. Griffey, called up at the age of 19, made a quick impact and posted a 155 OPS+ at age 21. His pop exceeded Trout's then and probably always will, but Mike does have the advantage of better speed (Griffey settled in as a 15 steals a year type). Griffey's early career was actually the sort of high average, moderate power skill set I think Trout will follow, although Griffey exploded for 45 bombs in 1993 when he finally settled in. While Trout's a leadoff-man now, I suppose Griffey between 1989 and 1992 represents a sort of ceiling for a young Trout until his develops his stroke. However, I think Trout's development will involve batting titles, not home run crowns.
Carl Crawford: 27.0 WAR over 10 seasons
Crawford may be having a brutal season now, but the 4 time all star has come to represent a sort of prototype for speedy outfielders. And if Crawford's career looks a little disappointing in terms of numbers (106 OPS+, about 10 homers a year from the corner outfield) his paychecks should wet Trout's appetite. Because Trout certainly has a higher ceiling. It's surprising that Crawford developed into such a high average player because his 1/3 K/BB ration leaves plenty to be desired. Crawford never did develop much plate discipline and his power totals took awhile to mature. His .736 OPS compares badly to Trout's .931, and Mike's doing at a CF. Crawford never was ranked higher than 59th on Baseball America's prospect lists, and his stolen base totals and percentages don't exceed Trout's. And still he became a very good if not great major league outfielder. While plenty can go wrong in Trout's development, at this point in his career, he's well ahead of the Crawford curve.
Andrew McCutchen: 11.5 WAR over 3 seasons
|2005||18||2 Teams||2 Lgs||Rk-A-||PIT||58||254||210||48||65||12||4||2||35||17||2||37||30||.310||.419||.433||.852|
|2006||19||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A-AA||PIT||134||590||531||89||156||24||4||17||74||23||8||50||111||.294||.359||.450||.809|
|2007||20||2 Teams||2 Lgs||AA-AAA||PIT||135||570||513||77||136||24||3||11||53||21||4||48||94||.265||.329||.388||.717|
McCutchen is in the midst of a monster season and a near-9.0 WAR, thanks to a broad offensive skill set and suddenly excellent defense. His minor league track track record, especially when viewed following 2 very solid major league seasons, looks underwhelming. Like Crawford, McCutchen showed some skills in the farm system but his tools initially exceeded his numbers. The steals were solid but unspectacular, as were the walks, hits, and power numbers. His age 19 season, where Trout is now, was spent mostly in single A, a level below Mike. And there, McCutchen put up an OPS about 160 points lower than Trout's. Still, he made the majors taking the Beltran route: crappy team (Pirates) need a spark and have nothing to lose, plus McCutchen's age 21 season saw him at least maintain his numbers in AAA. His BB/KK rate kept improving and he made a fairly seamless transition. But Trout's been better, and if McCutchen can develop into one of the best players in the N.L., so can Prince Fish.
There are other players you can plug in who might work, like Jason Heyward and Bobby Abreu or, going way back, Eric Davis or even Mickey Mantle. But the point is, of all these players, really only Ken Griffey Jr. has outperformed Trout and only by a little. And we're talking about perhaps the greatest prospect of all time. All the above players have had (or are having) at least solid careers. Of course, I did cherry pick and there certainly have been flameouts like Ruben Rivera. But all the numbers indicate that for Trout, anything less than a long, productive career will be a disappointment. And though no one can really predict a Hall of Fame career until it happens (Dwight Gooden, anyone?) Trout's chances are as good as anyone at the same age over the last decade. Good luck to him.
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