Mike Trout Is Pretty Good, Too

Mike Trout is off to a great start. In just 129 plate appearances this season, the 20-year-old outfielder is hitting .304/.364/.522. Combine that with his spectacular defense, and it looks like Trout is well on his way to becoming one of the best players in baseball. Although Trout has been great this season, Bryce Harper has overshadowed his performance. And while Dave Cameron recently told us that Harper could be on his way to a historic season, Mike Trout isn’t that far behind.

Using the same methodology that Dave used in his Harper article, Trout’s current performance puts him in some pretty good company. Using wRC+, Trout is currently tied for the 14th best season by a 20-year-old.


Season Name Team G PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
1988 Gregg Jefferies Mets 29 118 0.321 0.364 0.596 0.425 184
1915 Babe Ruth Red Sox 42 103 0.315 0.376 0.576 0.448 181
1907 Ty Cobb Tigers 150 646 0.350 0.380 0.468 0.421 169
1996 Alex Rodriguez Mariners 146 677 0.358 0.414 0.631 0.444 162
1929 Mel Ott Giants 150 674 0.328 0.449 0.635 0.476 161
1952 Mickey Mantle Yankees 142 626 0.311 0.394 0.530 0.424 159
1939 Ted Williams Red Sox 149 677 0.327 0.436 0.609 0.464 158
1872 Cap Anson Athletics 46 233 0.415 0.455 0.525 0.440 155
1955 Al Kaline Tigers 152 681 0.340 0.421 0.546 0.421 154
1888 Jake Beckley Alleghenys 71 292 0.343 0.363 0.417 0.362 151
1916 Rogers Hornsby Cardinals 139 550 0.313 0.369 0.444 0.394 149
1928 Jimmie Foxx Athletics 118 473 0.328 0.416 0.548 0.427 147
1971 Greg Luzinski Phillies 28 115 0.300 0.386 0.470 0.395 147
1956 Frank Robinson Redlegs 152 668 0.290 0.379 0.558 0.408 146
1878 Abner Dalrymple Grays 61 277 0.354 0.368 0.421 0.366 146
2012 Mike Trout Angels 29 129 0.304 0.364 0.522 0.384 146

There are some pretty exceptional names on that list. Though Trout isn’t performing as well as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb or Alex Rodriguez, he’s matching the production of many hall-of-fame players. In fact, only three players on this list — Abner Dalrymple, Greg Luzinski and Gregg Jefferies — aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Alex Rodriguez is still active — and there will likely be some debate over his hall-of-fame merits based on his past steroid usage — but he clearly has a deserving resume.

Trout has shown he has abilities as a hitter, but he’s also regarded as an elite defender. Trout has managed to rack up a 4.9 UZR so far this season. And while UZR isn’t entirely dependable in a small sample, this is a case where the scouts and the stats agree. Mike Trout is — and will continue to be — a phenomenal defense player.

And because of that, Trout should be able to put up a strong WAR if he continues to hit at this level. He’s already been worth 1.7 wins this season, but he’s accumulated that total in fewer than 200 plate appearances. To determine how the rest of the season might shake out, we can look at Trout’s ZiPS projection. Trout’s Rest of Season ZiPS projection expects that Trout will post a .339 wOBA going forward. It also projects that Trout to be worth about three more wins this season — which would bring his season total to 4.8 WAR.

If Trout managed to finish the season with that win total, it would rate as the 16th best season by a 20-year-old. And if that weren’t impressive enough, there’s a chance that ZiPs is being conservative with its projection of Trout’s defense. In the 430 plate appearances ZiPS projects going forward, Trout is expected to produce a 3.3 UZR. He’s already accumulated 4.9 in just 129 plate appearances, so there’s a good chance he’ll exceed his UZR projection.

But if ZiPS is 100% accurate, and Trout does finish the season with a 4.8 WAR, that would still be incredibly impressive. Trout’s performance would put him on par with Johnny Bench, Jimmie Foxx, Willie Mays and Jason Heyward. Three of those players are in the Hall of Fame. And some pretty flattering things were written during Heyward’s rookie season.

Mike Trout may be a year older than Bryce Harper — and he may have slightly more experience in the big leagues — but what he’s doing at 20 years old is almost equally as impressive. If anyone is going to challenge Harper for the title of the game’s best player five years from now, it’s almost certainly going to be Trout.

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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.

55 Responses to “Mike Trout Is Pretty Good, Too”

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  1. CabreraDeath says:

    Good piece, Chris. If there is one thing ZiPS(R) may be understimating, in addition to his defense as you stated, is his BB% (8.7%). Based on watching his approach and his MiLB numbers (11-12%), I think I think he’ll walk more.

    Also, *homerism alert, possibly*, I think Andrew McCutchen may have something to say about ‘best player in the game’ status. Harper/Trout have both been excellent, but it’s not locked in that either will be best player, in my eyes.

    Again, good stuff.

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    • baty says:

      Something else extremely impressive, is Trout’s “consistently elite” BABIP output. He was basically a .400+BABIP MILB hitter, and after a really low stretch during his first MLB stint last year, so far, he’s up into the .360 range for the ’12 season. It will be interesting to see how things settle in that area of his game.

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  2. L.UZR says:

    Even though Trout is a year older, he may have less elite baseball experience than Harper given his part-time baseball status through high school. There certainly is room for him to grow.

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    • CabreraDeath says:

      Great point….

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    • baty says:

      I would say that although Trout probably has less total baseball experience, he still has more elite baseball experience. Harper may have had longer seasons and played against better competition throughout his earlier days, but I don’t think it means too much for either at this stage of the game. There isn’t much that a 12-18 year old can do experience-wise to prepare for the real test of AA-MLB type pitching to come, other than actually facing and studying it on a regular basis.

      Elite prospects don’t usually begin getting tested beyond physical condition and natural ability until they push past at least A ball. So I think it’s maybe more about each of your lower level experiences putting you in a position to do well as you advance per level. Both have obviously had plenty of valuable experience to get them into each of those advanced situations.

      Past A ball, Trout more than triples Harper’s experience. Having said that, both are still relying heavily on physical condition and raw skill because of their relative inexperience. I just think Harper has to rely on it a bit more because he’s less experienced with elite competition.

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  3. Jimbo says:

    Not sure how you can project which player in baseball in going to be better 5 years from now. I’m thinking about players who have yet to debut…

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  4. Giancarlo Stanton says:

    What about me? You guys only write articles when I hit just one HR in a month. I’m still pretty good, right?

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  5. guest says:

    I still prefer Trout versus Harper because of his more well-balanced, diversified game.

    Plate discipline: Trout wins this, based on minor-league numbers and major league (Small sample) stats. However, Harper may get more walks due to pitchers being scared of his power.

    Power: Harper wins this handily.

    Arm: Harper wins this easily, as well.

    Defense: Trout has more range and will play the more difficult position for a longer period of time.

    Hit tool: Trout

    Speed: Trout, obviously.

    Makeup: Trout seems like a hard worker and I also like Harper’s passion. Push.

    Overall: I understand how people are going crazy over Harper, but I really feel that the difference between the two is slight and that Trout has less of a chance of collapsing than Harper.

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    • Richie says:

      There’s not a scout in baseball who would rate Makeup a ‘push’ between Trout and Harper.

      This isn’t a prediction Harper’s going to explode sometime or anything. But let’s wait till something bad or UNFAIR! happens to him and see how he deals with it. Before we now conclude he has good makeup, too.

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      • kozilla says:

        It seems you are eluding to Harper’s well publicized temper. While this is certainly not an admirable trait I am not so sure it is a bad thing for a baseball player. Assuming he doesn’t go all Milton Bradley and jeopardizes his career with his temper, I think an uber intense attitude can be a good thing. Wanting to win and perform so badly is the kind of drive you need to become a once in a generation type star.

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      • Richie says:

        I am alluding more to Harper’s well-publicized obnoxiousness. Which hasn’t reared its head of late, so hopefully he’s matured past it.

        But if not, well, an obnoxious guy with a quick fuse. Yes, on a day-in day-out basis for 7 months a year, that would take a toll on a ballclub. Or any organization.

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  6. johnnycuff says:

    I’ve been saying Mike Trout is the next Abner Dalrymple for years now

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  7. db says:

    On the chart, putting Trout at the bottom doesn’t tell us a whole lot. Who are the 5 or ten next guys, so we can see where he clusters, not where he falls short (not that falling short of the players on that list is a failing).

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  8. Mobley15 says:

    Last year, when Trout was 19, in about exactly the same amount of PAs (134 Trout, 129 Harper) Trout put up .8 WAR vs Harper’s current .5 WAR. Harper’s bat may be better but at this very unspecific point in both of their careers Trout has been better.

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    • John C says:

      I think the counter argument to that is that most of that WAR total from Trout’s age 19 season came from his defense which is less reliable over 40 games than offensive numbers are. Trout’s age-19 wRC+ was 89 last year, Harper’s this year is 130. Certainly Trout is expected to add a lot of value with his defense, but WAR might not be the best measure when dealing with 40 games.

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      • yo-yo says:

        Neither is wRC+. I remember how hyped Greg Jefferies was (check his wRC+ on above 20 year Ols chart.) 40 games is 40 games. Lots of things can change.

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  9. Angelsjunky says:

    As an Angels fan I wouldn’t trade Trout for Harper straight up, and for many of the reasons cited – his makeup, his lower chance of not fulfilling his potential, his overall balanced skill set – but it is mainly because he’s just so damn exciting to watch and, I must admit, he’s “our” phenom.

    To me the comparison seems to overly favor the gaudy power potential of Harper. Certainly Harper will likely have higher OPS and HR totals, but Trout will do (and already does) little things that, when combined, make him a more interesting and, I would say, at least equally valuable player. To put it another ay, do you want a 1.000+ OPS hitter with good RF defense and above average speed or a .900+ OPS hitter with excellent CF defense and blazing speed? If Harper ends up hitting .300/.450/.650, then it will be hard for Trout’s secondary skills to make up for the difference, but if Harper hits .290/1.000 and Trout hits .320/.950, then Trout’s speed and defense will more than make up the difference. I’d say the differential in terms of OPS is about 100 points – Bryce has to be at least 100 points higher than Trout to make up the difference in terms of overall value.

    The most common comp that I’ve heard for Trout is Grady Sizemore who I think works reasonably well, but if Grady had hit .300 regularly and was even faster. Actually, Trout reminds me a bit more of Rickey Henderson, with less SB but a higher average. I also like the comp of Jacoby Ellsbury, 2011 version.

    The bottom line, though, is that the Nationals and Angels are both lucky: both players are already very good and only going to get better and, I would imagine, we’ll be having similar conversations for the next 5-10 years.

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    • Nathan Nathan says:

      OPS isn’t really a good stat. It overvalues slugging in relation to on base ability. And it ignores baserunning. For offense, wRC+ is a very good stat that accounts for the relative value of all offensive actions and normalizes for park and league. It’s available on Fangraphs.

      “To put it another ay, do you want a 1.000+ OPS hitter with good RF defense and above average speed or a .900+ OPS hitter with excellent CF defense and blazing speed? ”

      WAR is created specifically to address this questions. It all comes down to how that OPS is composed (a .450 OBP/.450 SLG hitter is about as valuable at the plate as a .300 OBP/.700 SLG hitter) and how good their relative baserunning and defense is. Since WAR accounts for all of that, I think it provides a good answer to your question.

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      • yo-yo says:

        Thanks for stating the obvious, I’m going to assume Angelsjunky new that. Secondly as stated above, if we use fWAR for each players first 130 at bats at age 19 then Trout wins. WAR will tell us alot more when they are both in their mid twenties. If I had to choose one it would be Trout at this point. I think he has more room to grow as a hitter than Harper and is a better athlete.

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      • Angelsjunky says:

        Gotcha, Nathan Nathan. OPS, like any stat, isn’t an accurate or comprehensive measure of a player’s overall value, but like all stats it does say something, and what I was trying to point out is that Harper’s overall hitting ability – as a combination of on-base and slugging – is probably going to be better/higher than Trout’s, but that Trout will be better at the stuff outside of what OPS represents, and that I would suggest that the difference will be roughly equal to 100 OPS points, maybe a bit more.

        WAR, of course, should account for it, but the problem with WAR on its own is that because it is such a comprehensive statistic, it is hard to tell what is going on “within” the number. For instance, we all know that 7 WAR is a superstar player, but there are many ways to get to 7 WAR. I think both Trout and Harper will, but will take different routes, an Trout’s will be less obvious in terms of the more commonly used statistics (e.g. OPS, SLG, HR, etc).

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  10. Mackey says:

    In 5 years Giancarlo Stanton might be hitting HRs at a torrid Bonds PED pace, sans PEDs. Not a good defender, but that would still push him over Harper or Trout. Is Harper expected to top out in HRs/yr as high as Stanton?

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    • Atothe says:

      He’s pretty good defensively at least from what I’ve seen but Stanton over both for me.

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    • J Walter Weatherman says:

      Totally reasonable to expect Stanton to match the greatest hitting performance in MLB history.

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  11. Snoth says:

    Watch Trout play baseball. He is never not smiling. This has nothing to do with comparing him to Harper, but Trout makes me happy to be a baseball fan.

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  12. aj says:

    Harper does all the little tangible things as much or more then trout too. He turns singles into doubles routinely has stolen home already. Both are amazing it’s prolly a push now but honestly a 19 year old even holding his own is a once ina generation thing.

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    • yo-yo says:

      Trout has been mking doubles out of singles, no? Stealing home is a function of the manager not the player, c’mon. Nothing points to Harper having superior intangibles to Trout so far. ITS JUST A FEW GAMES AND THEY BOTH COULD BE AWESOME.

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  13. yo-yo says:

    In 1951 Mickey Mantle was 19 and Willie Mays was 20. Which was a better ballplayer? Jus sayin.

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    • henry says:

      that’s actually pretty interesting, because while mays obviously had much more power than trout, they kind of relate to eachother in similar ways that harper and trout do, mays with more speed, mantle with more pure power, and mantle was more intense as a person as well.

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    • Jon L. says:

      I thought I read Bill James saying Mickey Mantle was probably the fastest player in baseball. I looked at “runs from baserunning” on baseball reference, and Mantle had more through age 29 than Mays did through age 31 (when Mays got caught up in games played).

      After that, Mantle’s injuries hampered his speed, while Mays continued to blaze right through age 40.

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      • BJ says:

        Mickey was very, very fast. We’re not talking a + runner like Harper, we’re talking an elite runner. It’s flat out scary to think what Mickey could have done.

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  14. Ohhhhhme says:

    I own both Trout and Harper in my league, and I watch them both regularly. For me, Trout is hands down the better guy with the brighter future. Has awesome speed and defense. Imagine if he keeps his power up!! Harper always worries me too because he is still an immature boy with a history of emotional flare ups.

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    • Jason B says:

      “he is still an immature boy”

      I know right! People should never, ever do anything rash or poorly conceived, especially at 19! I mean, we never did at that age, am I right?! Those poor, poor people – those mere mortals – they just dunno what it’s like to be perfect sometimes. They should just try harder, I mean, its pretty easy…

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    • yo-yo says:

      For your sake I hope that’s a keeper league.

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  15. Snoth says:

    I wanna see Trout blow a kiss at a pitcher like Harper did….

    Or better yet Harper blow another kiss, but obviously this time at a big leaguer. See how arrogant he really is

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    • Jason B says:

      “See how arrogant he really is”

      Or, we could (a) totally ignore the context and the things that came before that incident, and/or (b) pretend like we didn’t all do many, many, many, many ill-conceived things at 19-20.

      Nope, we were all perfectly behaved and totally mature at that age, and that kid is a total jerkwad.

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  16. sausagemcbiscuit says:

    Harper will be the slightly better fantasy option, but I think Trout is the more valuable player IRL. He can beat you in more ways than Harper can IMO

    It’s a moot point anyway as both look like they’ll be top 10 players in MLB fairly soon and should stay there for quite awhile

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  17. Juan Chapa says:

    I grew up on baseball during the 60’s, so I am a bit cynical,
    regarding today’s players. To say that Trout and Harper are
    today’s best players does not say much to me, when we
    have millionaire players hitting .169, and millionaire
    pitchers with 6.09 or higher ERAs. Its just frustrating
    when a star pitcher gives up a grand slam to a .169
    nobody hitter. During the 60’s, I saw one (three at the
    most) grand slam, that I remember. During the last
    three years, I’ve seen 20 – 25. I do not find that very
    exciting. Now, if Trout and Harper are the best players
    since the last 20 – 25 years, I am impressed and take
    my hat off to them.

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    • Willie McCovey says:

      Sounds legit, I didn’t see very many when I played…

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    • BJ says:

      That’s fair right? Because access to baseball games in the 60’s is a lot like it is today. I’m sure you had Baseball Tonight, cable TV, MLB Extra Innings, etc back then.

      Harper and Trout are outstanding talents regardless of what generation we are looking at. Hate to break it to you but there were plenty of top earners in the 60’s who performed poorly.

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  18. Tim Abel says:

    I sense that Trout is the arrogant one. He interviews badly and he has just that look to him. Harper does too, but in a different way. I bet we find out in years to come that trout was a bad teammate. There is something behind the way he chomps his gum and swaggers. I don’t like watching him at all.

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    • yo-yo says:

      They both have huge egos which is quite normal for exceptional people in any walk of life. What was Barry Bonds, humble. Even the ones that seem Modest like Jeter and Maddux have huge ego’s behind the scenes. I mean for christ sakes, after Derek has a one night stand he sends his date home with a basket full of signed Derek Jeter memorobilla.

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  19. morrowrosanna says:

    like Amy responded I cant believe that someone can profit $8758 in four weeks on the internet. did you read this web site makecash16Com

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  20. Jay Stevens says:

    As of today, Trout is up to a wRC+ of 163, putting him fourth on the list, behind only Ruth, Cobb, and Jeffries.

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    • Ray says:

      As of today Harper is up to a wRC+ of 153, Trout is at 170. Remarkable what they’re both doing. They’re both close to qualifying for the batting title, with Trout sitting 2nd in the AL. For wOBA and wRC+ Trout would be sitting 7th and 6th in the two stats, Harper 19th in both.

      The two will be forever linked, and most people seem to be ‘taking sides’ with these guys. Can’t we just appreciate both for what they are, which at the moment is arguably the best under-21 rookie tandem in baseball history?

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  21. Butters says:

    Unbelievable talents, both.

    To address an earlier comment, regarding Best Player In Baseball in five years, I think we also have to look at three guys who are doing unbelievable things in the upper minors right now: Jurickson Profar, Oscar Taveras, and Wil Myers.

    Myers is 21, and slugging.700+ across AA and AAA this year, and may be able to stick in CF, at least for a few years. Duke Snider redux?

    Profar is just 19, plays a solid shortstop, and is hitting for average and power, AND showing excellent strikezone command in AA. Barry Larkin, anyone?

    And Taveras, who Mike Newman’s contacts say could be a 30-HR centerfielder, and who Jason Parks describes as having an “80-grade hit tool,” compares pretty favorably so far to Mike Trout at the same age/level.

    Trout at 19 in the Texas League:
    .326 avg., .958 OPS, just under .60 BB/K

    Taveras, same league, 7 weeks older:
    .322 avg., .956 OPS, also just under .60 BB/K

    You could go back to when they were 18 in the Midwest League, or even 17 in rookieball, and the performances have almost eerie similarities.

    Trout is of course vastly superior defensively and on the bases, but they both figure to annually contend for batting titles, and Taveras might have truly elite power, as opposed to Trout’s distinctly-above-average pop.

    Indeed, Taveras has an unusually good chance of fulfilling his power potential, since his contact rates are borderline elite. Specifically, let’s compare again Trout and Taveras at age 19 in the Texas League:

    Trout: .218 ISO, and 18% K rate.
    Taveras: .259 ISO, and 13% K rate.

    More power *and* more contact is a potent combo.

    I apologize for rambling a bit; I’d still take Trout in five years, no doubt. But as for 2nd-best MLB player in five years, I’d throw Myers, Profar, and especially Taveras into the mix with Harper, McCutchen, Votto, Tulo, Longoria, and Upton.

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  22. Jason says:

    If we pick an arbitrary cutoff of 200 minimum PA, Trout tops the 20yo list as of today. Harper is “only” 6th on the list of 19yo (same criteria).

    Can’t wait to see where they are by the end of the year.

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  23. Sam says:

    Looking back at this article now is quite the kick. “If Mike Trout managed to finish the season at [4.8 WAR]” sounds like such a hilarious statement as we now speculate whether or not he will be able finish the season with 10.0 WAR, 30 HRs and 50 SBs…

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