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How the Angels found Mike Trout

High expectations have somehow been exceeded

2010 XM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

It was over a decade ago that Mike Trout first became a blip on the Angels’ radar, as a standout at Millville High School in New Jersey. A tweet by Baseball America on Wednesday shared a wonderful post from when Trout was named BA’s minor league player of the year in 2011.

The Angels drafted Trout 25th overall in 2009, and although he wasn’t technically their first pick — Randal Grichuk was picked 24th — the more stunning point is that 24 players were picked ahead of Trout, who has thus far been very clearly the best player of his generation. Twenty-two teams had draft picks before the Angels, and they all passed on Trout. Oops.

Maybe those teams that passed on Trout couldn’t have seen just how good he would become. After all, how can one project an eight-year start that is in the discussion for best ever in the history of the sport?

The Los Angeles Times news story of the Angels draft in 2009 focused on Grichuk and his power, with Kevin Baxter writing that the Angels “played it safer” with their pick of Trout. Angels scouting director Eddie Bane told the LAT of Trout, “We love the way he plays the game” and that he “can make things happen on the basepaths.”

Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus had a relatively glowing report of Trout, rating him as the 16th-best prospect in the 2009 draft. Goldstein’s perfect-world outcome for Trout was “An above-average center fielder who can beat you in a lot of different ways.”

Both perfectly reasonable outlooks for a 17-year-old.

But it was then-Angels scout Greg Morhardt who did have unreasonably high expectations for Trout. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Morhardt gave Trout his highest grade ever, per J.J. Cooper at Baseball America:

When Morhardt filled out his official report on Trout he had to cheat too. Area scouts are asked to put a overall future potential (OFP) grade on a prospect by taking a players’ individual tools and averaging them out. Morhardt quickly realized he had a problem.

“If you say he’s an 80 runner, and you think he might be a 70 hitter with 70 power. By the time you’re done he’s a 72 (OFP) or something ridiculous like that,” Morhardt said.

A 72 is the kind of number you throw on a Hall of Famer. In Morhardt’s case he was putting that number on a 17-year-old high school outfielder from a small town in New Jersey. He worried that if he turned in that number, people would think he had lost his mind. So he took his thumb off the scale. He toned down a couple of grades and ended up filing Trout as a 67 or 69, he can’t remember which.

“You had to soft-pedal it because people in general would say, ‘Come on.’ Really good players get low 60s or high 50s. You could be a high 50s OFP and be a first-round pick,” he said.

Looking back, maybe Morhardt should have adjusted his grade in the other direction. But Morhardt deserves a ton of credit for recognizing Trout’s amazing talent before almost anyone else.