Should Mike Trout Hook A Starting Job?

Mike Trout is the catch of the day when it comes to center field prospects. After posting a gaudy .338/.422/.508 slash line in the minors, Trout made his big league debut this past season. Though his performance wasn’t all that impressive, Trout still has one of the highest ceilings of any prospect in baseball. But even though Trout no longer needs to prove himself in the minors, he may find himself back there again this season. That’s because the Los Angeles Angels currently have five potential starters in the outfield for just three spots. Can Trout steal away a starting job, or will he be left swimming upstream all season?

In order to win a starting job, Trout will have to beat out some well-established candidates.

Angels Outfielders Age K% BB% wOBA wRC+ UZR WAR
Mike Trout 20 22.2% 6.7% .303 89 3.2 0.8
Peter Bourjos 25 22.5% 5.8% .336 111 7.5 4.3
Vernon Wells 33 16.3% 3.8% .285 77 4.8 0.3
Torii Hunter 36 19.3% 9.6% .332 109 -0.9 2.5
Bobby Abreu 38 19.3% 13.3% .325 104 -5.2 0.4

Looking at the table, we can almost immediately eliminate Bobby Abreu from the conversation. At 38, he’s not going to get better, and he hasn’t been a good fielder since 2003. Considering the Angels were hesitant to put Abreu in the outfield last season, it’s unlikely they would move him back out there next season. While his walk rate was still solid, Abreu’s bat isn’t going to cover for his poor defense any longer.

Peter Bourjos might have the least amount of name recognition on the list, but he was clearly the Angels’ best option in the outfield this past season. His .338 BABIP makes him a candidate for some offensive regression, but his defense is superb in center field. Other than Trout, Bourjos is the only player on the list that can play center effectively. Based on his defense and performance last season, Bourjos should be a guaranteed starter heading into 2012.

Torii Hunter has clearly been on the decline the past couple of seasons, but he’s still a slightly above-average corner outfielder. For a player with such a strong defensive reputation in center, Hunter posted a negative UZR in right field last season. He’s not a great defensive option anymore, but his bat will play in a corner spot.

Vernon Wells’ bat, on the other hand, is no longer suited for any position. While his defense in left field was solid, his .218/.248/.412 was unacceptable — especially considering the average AL left fielder hit .252/.312/.404 this past season. His wOBA and wRC+ were the worst marks posted by any left fielder in baseball. Mike Trout actually posted a higher WAR than Wells in just 135 plate appearances.

It’s not that easy, of course. Trout may already be the better player, but the Angels may be hesitant to bench a player they owe a large chunk of money. Wells still has three years left on his deal, averaging about $21 million per season. Even though Wells’ performance does not warrant a starting spot, that’s a high price to pay for a bench player.

One of the three players could be traded to make room for Trout, but even that seems unlikely. Both Wells and Hunter are owed a significant amount of money, and our own Dave Cameron already outlined why it would be foolish for the Angels to deal Bourjos. Trout is only 20-years-old, and still can be optioned to the minor leagues. That would be the easiest way to resolve the situation, but would not give the Angels the optimal lineup.

If Wells is benched, it won’t reflect poorly on the front office — and Jerry DiPoto in particular — who inherited Wells’ awful contract. While DiPoto probably hopes Wells lives up to the contract, he wasn’t the one that traded for Wells. That could make it easier for DiPoto to tell Scioscia to forget about player salaries, and play the best nine guys.

Trout could technically end up as the starting DH, but that would be a terrible waste of resources. Trout is capable of playing great outfield defense, and his value would not be optimized in a DH role. Plus, the Angels still have Mark Trumbo and potentially Kendrys Morales to fill that role. If Trout does start, it has to be in the outfield.

Based on his ceiling, Trout definitely deserves a starting role. He’s already a better player than Wells, and you could make the argument that he’ll be more valuable than Hunter next season — or at least comparable in value. Here’s hoping the Angels don’t take the easy way out, because you can bet your bass Trout should be a starter.





Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Jesse
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Jesse

Its not really fair to Trout, but he probably should go back to Triple-A for financial reasons.

If he tears it up their, I suppose I really can’t argue with him getting the call up but here is how i look at it, in the case of a 20-21 year old, Franchise level talent.

1) Is he undeniably big league ready? In this case, with the minor struggles during his call up, the answer is basically no.

2)Are you in absolute win now mode and he’s better than all other options in a major whole? Apparently not.

3) how does it look financially? This is a bit sad, but there are two things to think about here. One is that the older and more seasoned he is when his arb clock starts ticking, the more quality you get out of your team controlled years. Two, the later they come up, the less money they can expect to get out of their free agent years due to others being able to buy their peak years.

How would the brewers be looking right now if they had let fielder develop an extra year in the minors? They’d have paid him way less up until this point, have him around for an extra year of his peak while they were capable of contention, and the odds he’d have gotten 214 million if you cut out one more of his top years are just way lower. He’d cost fewer years till 36 and probably get less AAV.

Old Style
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Old Style

On the big league ready comment, his struggles were essentially babip issues in a small sample (counter point would be if he put up a .400 babip many people would falsely say he is destined for a hall of fame career). He was much superior to Bourjos’s offensive numbers 2 years ago, and I do not see it as all that much of a stretch to think that Trout’s improvement would be similar.

In terms of performance, I think it is quite clear he should be playing. I think the deciding factor will be the financial incentives for the Angels.

rbt
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rbt

Your babip point is well taken, but low babip can also be the result of weak contact generated by a player who isn’t yet ready for major league pitching. I saw Trout many times, and he looks like he would greatly benefit from some more minor league seasoning. It may not take much, but I think it would do him a world of good.

Art Moreno
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Art Moreno

What is BABIP? Trout clearly needs more seasoning in the minors, we have two excellent corner outfielders already in Wells and Hunter. I could only see him starting if we could find somebody to take Bourjos off our hands.

Aggie E
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Aggie E

As a Rangers fan I will be glad if he spends time in AAA because the one thing this kid has is speed and power and thats always scary. He had a couple routine GBs that he beat out with that ++ speed and once he learns to steal bases its gonna be even worse. Hopefully Wells hits replacement level and keeps the kid at AAA

Will
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Will

The one thing this kid has… is two things.

Travis
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Aggie, those are some very nice comments coming from a Rangers fan. Don’t fret, the Angels will keep Trout in the minors because there is a vet out there in left. I’m hoping that Scioscia realizes that Wells is kaput sometime in May and calls up Trout but I’m not holding my breath.