Mike Trout and Bryce Harper came up this weekend. Mike Trout went oh-for-the-weekend. Bryce Harper had two hits, one a double, with an RBI to boot. Trout is on a crowded team at a crowded position. Bryce Harper plays center field for a team desperate for a center fielder. In keeper leagues, many will tell you — we’ve got all the premier scout-types on record in our FG+ article on the subject — that Harper’s power upside will be the more valuable tool going forward.
But, in redraft leagues, for just this year, I’m taking Mike Trout.
People ask why we do a search for comps in these situations, asking the question “What does Jose Oquendo have to do with Bryce Harper?” And it’s a viable thing to ask, since every baseball player (and human) is unique. But it is also valuable to consider his age so that you can say, by looking at the comps, something like “It’s really hard to be a 19-year-old big leaguer.” Only four guys have managed 200 plate appearances at that age since 1980 is another way to put it. Adrian Beltre‘s .215/.278/.369 in 214 PAs is the second-best season by a 19-year-old is just one more way of putting it.
So Harper is facing high odds against producing this season. And then there is his recent Minor League performance that is less than titillating. Bryce Harper hit .256/.329/.395 in 147 Double-A PAs, and followed that up with .250/.333/.375 in 82 Triple-A PAs to open this year. Mike Trout hit .326/.414/.544 in 412 Double-A PAs, and followed that up with .403/.467/.623 in 93 Triple-A PAs to open this year. If there were more PAs in both samples, you might start to wonder if the results alone would push Trout past Harper even if you demerit him for his two-year head start.
Trout is readier. But doesn’t his team situation make him worse off? Even with Bobby Abreu gone, the Angels have three Major League right-handed outfielders from left to right: Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, and Torii Hunter. Despite what you think of some of those ballplayers, it’s a better list than the Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina standing between Harper and playing time.
But the Angels seem ready to play their outfielder. Perhaps it’s because they are, surprisingly, last in their division. It could just be two games, or it could be a sign that the team is looking to Trout for a spark. Vernon Wells‘ .221/.241/.429 is 19% worse than league average and he’s just about replacement level right now. It’s true that he’s under contract for two years and $42 million after this year, but those are the crimes of a previous administration. The new management in Anaheim is likely treating him as a sunk cost, and feels no need to save face by recovering any value whatsoever from that disastrous trade. Wells can pitch in against lefties, or push Trout to center when Bourjos’ hip (which will require surgery at some point) is acting up. And then there’s the fact that Bourjos’ high-strikeout game means he doesn’t get on base enough to be a great asset at the plate, and if the team needs offense, he could end up being used more for his defense as a late-inning replacement.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Trout to stake his claim to regular playing time. Turning 21 this year, he’s also two years more ready to take advantage of his prodigious tools. And those last two years of dominance at Triple-A suggest he’s ready to hit the ground running. In keeper leagues, the debate is still open, but for this year and this year alone, Mike Trout looks like the catch.