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.




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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.

44 Responses to “Should Mike Trout Hook A Starting Job?”

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  1. Jesse says:

    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.

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    • Old Style says:

      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.

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      • rbt says:

        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.

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      • Art Moreno says:

        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.

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    • Aggie E says:

      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

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      • Will says:

        The one thing this kid has… is two things.

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      • Travis says:

        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.

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  2. TheGrandslamwich says:

    Wells is coming off a down season and I really don’t think he should be knocked so much for just 1 year. In 2010 he had a 126 wRC+. While he’s never had the best plate discipline, I highly doubt he will continue with a sub 4% walk rate.

    While the Angels would likely be a better team with Trout in the line-up, it may be worth it to keep him in the minors and delay his arbitration clock, especially with so many large, almost untradable contracts with players who are still capable of being solid regulars.

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    • Stan Gable says:

      I tend to agree.

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    • steex says:

      Before 2006, Vernon Wells realized that he only needs to hit every other year to keep getting playing time, and thus elected to only hit in even numbered years. Since then, he’s put up wOBAs of .382, .357, and .362 in even numbered years while putting up .306, .314, and .285 in the odd years. Clearly, Wells is primed for a campaign of ~.360 wOBA in 2012.

      Surely the team knew they’d be getting Pujols this offseason and made the Wells trade last year with his 2012 production in mind. Everything’s coming up Angels.

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    • Travis says:

      Over the last five years Wells hasn’t posted a WAR above 2 except for in 2010, which was a 3.8 WAR. If he does “bounce back” we’re still looking at a guy with a WAR around 1, which isn’t all that great once you consider the fact that Trout had a WAR of 0.8 last year in 135 ABs. If you ramp up those numbers to 500 ABs his WAR would have been around 3 (not scientific but I think that would probably be accurate).

      If Trout got the job in LF this year out of Spring Training I would guess that he would be a very productive cog in the Angels’ lineup. Bill James and all the other prognosticators on this site think so as well.

      Where you make a good point Grandslamwich is with the whole arbitration angle. But I think that the Angels need to win now. Pujols probably won’t be a great player in five years and the same goes for our starting staff. Everybody is getting older and the Angels need to put their best lineup out there everyday. And their best lineup is, as you agree, with Trout starting in LF.

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  3. Stan Gable says:

    I actually don’t think trading Peter Bourjos is indefensible. Far from it actually. While his defense is a luxury, there is a homegrown, younger option in Mike Trout who offers oodles more potential offensive upside with more years of control.

    I don’t get what the rush is with Trout anyways. Sure, he was already too much for the Texas League as a veritable baby, but I don’t see the harm in beginning him in the PCL & letting him really get comfortable. Although overall usage might have played into his offensive performance, Trout did seem overmatched at the MLB level in 2011& he should be playing just about every day (something which might not occur in the OC immediately in 2012).

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  4. Colin says:

    How about a strict challenge trade, Trout for Harper? The Nationals need a CF more than they need a corner OF. The Angels appear set in CF with Bourjos, and Trout’s value is diminished in a corner spot. Harper could stand a few more months of seasoning in AAA (not to mention the Super II status benefit), which would probably delay this decision for long enough to let an injury determine the call up date (or complete ineffectiveness from Wells).

    Of course this will never happen. Neither GM wants to run the risk of swapping a superstar for a lessor, or even failed, player. However, it would be fun to debate this trade for the next decade, especially if they remain essentially equal player moving forward.

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    • TheGrandslamwich says:

      Fun idea! I doubt there is a GM alive with the cohonas for that.

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    • Jason says:

      This actually strikes me as a really good idea. Add in the fact that Trout is from the Mid-Atlantic and Harper grew up a 3 hour drive from Anaheim, and I like it even more.

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  5. Joe B says:

    That pun doesn’t even make sense. Why would Trout, the fish, be “hooking” anything. “Will Trout be hooked into a starting role” makes more sense but sounds just as retarded.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      How were my other fish jokes?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        This was my big hangup with the Vernon Wells deal. 20+M/y aside, the big thing for me was that Wells would be “blocking” Trout. I say “blocking” because when you pay someone that much money you HAVE to play them (in the mind of a GM).

        The LAA could have Trout-Bourjous and Hunter in the OF and Abreau at DH or on the bench. Even if Trout and Bourjous struggle with the bat, they likely still are league average due to their UZR, and I’m sure Haren, Weaver, Santana and Crew love that. But since they ARE paying Wells a ton of money, he “has” to play. Not only that but they sent Napoli away to “get” Wells.

        That’s what really gets me, they KNEW that Trout was coming, yet they still obtained a mammoth contract for an averagish or below OF’er. Now, he has to play just because. I know two wrongs don;t make a right, but do three wrongs?

        I think Trout has to play, regardless of the Wells contract. He has to play until he proves that he can’t.

        Yes, Mike Trout should hook

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      • Rally says:

        “or will he be left swimming upstream all season?”

        That would be (Tim) Salmon, not Trout.

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      • buddy says:

        You’re no Moises Alou.

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      • Aggie E says:

        I liked Reagins…

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      • Alex Anthopolous says:

        I liked Reagins too…

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  6. Eddie says:

    /Fish pun.

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  7. gus says:

    I think this is a lot easier than you’re making it out to be. I think they start Bourjos CF, Trout LF, and Hunter RF with Wells as an expensive 4th outfielder. If they want to burn a roster spot on Abreu, he’s their part-time DH.

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  8. Antonio Bananas says:

    Mike Trout, Justin Smoak, and Yu Darvish walk into a bar…..fangraphs and MLB.com shut down with a flood of pun-driven article titles.

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  9. Big Jgke says:

    The decline to cheap punchline of Vernon Wells’ once proud career is deeply saddening. If he had signed a deal for half as much nobody would ever complain about him. Or on the other side of the coin, you can’t ever mention his name without mentioning the contract, but JP Ricciardi is talked about all the time without the Vernon’s 126 Mil deal being branded on his forehead.

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    • Aggie E says:

      Wells was still decent in Toronto and AA duped Tony reagins into taking the contract and AA also shipped his other albatross to Chicago so its out of sight out of mind..

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    • Scott G says:

      Yes poor Vernon Wells!

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    • Scott G says:

      Where does Trumbo play? 3B seems out with his slow healing injury. Seems like he splits time at OF& DH, unless they deal him which would be tough with the injury

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      • Andre says:

        Trumbo’s not a good player, so as a die hard Angels fan I don’t really care. He’s nice to have but his walk rate is putrid, and it’s not like he’s a defensive stud either. Barring a drastic turn of events in his plate discipline I think he profiles to be a part timer/pinch hitter for his career.

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  10. Michael Franko says:

    Honestly this doesn’t seem too difficult a proposition to me given that you’re willing to swap your outfield positions around.

    Theoretically, Trout would be a “utility guy”, but that’s more by position. He should be playing probably around 140 games this year, youth and logjam considered.

    Bourjos is the starting center fielder by right; he’s played excellent defense and doesn’t deserve to lose his position to a rookie, especially since Trout isn’t going to be worlds away better here.

    Then you can just kind of swap Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells around in the outfield, as well as with Bobby Abreu at DH, to maximize Trout’s playing time, with Trout also spelling Bourjos on days off.

    There’s no need to send him to the minors; you can reorganize this to maximize his play time without paying someone 18 or 26 million dollars to basically be a bench player.

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  11. sausagemcbiscuit says:

    Unfortunately, there’s just no opening for Trout. Of course, him in the minors this year will help the Halos add another year of service time, so that’s valuable

    with Hunter being a decent option still and Wells contract, there is no room for Trout this year, barring an injury. 2013 is when he’ll have a full time role as Hunter is a FA

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  12. Greg says:

    Everyone already knows the problem with Well’s contract. Abreu and Hunter each have 1more year. Abreu is obviously gone (and was signed to at least 1 year too long, but it’s old news). The sad part is that Hunter doesn’t have a spot because of Wells. With Borjos, Trout and Trumbo (plus maybe Morales), there are plenty of guys to fill the AB’s. So the 4th OF job which could have gone to Hunter is instead going to have to go to Wells.

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  13. Jack says:

    Lolololololololol This Post in retrospect.

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  14. S. Urista says:

    I have Trout in 3 of my 6 ‘important’ leagues.

    I will win all three of those leagues, going away. Coincidence? I think not!

    One is a keeper league. I get Trout in the 21st round next year, and 19th round the year after that.

    I love life right now.

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  15. Fan of home team says:

    Yes he should.

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