Every year, fans and commentators choose a player early in the season who they think will be the next breakout star. Whether it’s the rookie putting up all star numbers, or the unknown veteran reinventing himself, there always seems to be a guy that everyone thinks will no doubt be the next MVP. While these guys may seem like hall of famers and may even win the MVP that year, it’s usually too hard to judge their overall legacy until after they are a good 10-15 years into the majors. Aaron Judge hit 52 home runs in his first full year last season leading him to a Rookie of the Year title and the runner-up in the AL MVP. Those are hall of fame numbers, but does Judge deserve a spot in Cooperstown? It depends. Will he hit 50 home runs a year for the next 10? Or will he fizzle out like so many other break out youngsters before him? His Hall of Fame worthiness is impossible to tell, really. He could seriously injure himself, extenuating circumstances could deter his career, or big league pitchers could simply figure him out. The bottom line is that a few good years in the majors early on does not solidify your spot in baseball’s highest club…. That is, unless your name rhymes with Tike Crout.
Mike Trout may be the most exceptional player baseball has ever seen. That statement alone could cause a lot of controversy among baseball’s most seasoned historians and sabermetricians, but look at the facts — the dude’s a beast (yes that is a factual statement). In Trout’s first full year with the Angels, he raised eyebrows across the country. Here was a kid, not even old enough to drink a beer with his teammates, sitting at or near the top of many of baseball’s top offensive categories. Nevertheless, there was reason for skepticism.
Plenty of rookies have an explosive start before pitchers begin to figure them out. Look at Chris Coghlan (if you even remember him). The Marlins 24 year old hit .321 in his rookie campaign and won himself the 2009 Rookie of the Year award. But the next year, he hit .268, then .230, and so on. Coghlan is a prime example of a young player who shines for a year before fading out. He’s not an outlier though either. Some other guys like Carl Crawford were the stars of their small-market teams for years until they left for the spotlight. Crawford went to four all-star games with Tampa Bay, batting over .300 five times. Then he was traded to the Red Sox in what was supposed to be a huge blockbuster trade. The big city pressure proved too much for him as his average dropped from .307 to .255 in his first of two seasons in Boston. But let’s not look at all the shouldabeen hall of famers. Let’s look at the only player since Ken Griffey, Jr. who was a surefire hall of famer before he reached the ripe old age of 25.
Trout broke into the majors when he was 19. Unlike Junior, A-Rod, Manny Ramirez and other players who put up career number early, there wasn’t an overabundance of hype surrounding Trout. At the time of his call up in 2011, Brian Rudd, a writer for Baseball HQ, said, “Trout could immediately be a solid speed source, though, but at 19 years of age, some growing pains should certainly be expected.” Two things stand out about Rudd’s words. First, he made it seem like Trout would be a valuable pinch runner by highlighting his speed as his most valuable asset. While he is fast, speed is just one of the tools he possess. Second, Rudd mentions growing pains. Mike Trout is unfamiliar with the term growing pains. In six full seasons in the majors, he has yet to experience a significant hiccup.
His overall batting average is .306 and has never dropped below .287 on a season. He’s also one of only eight people in the history of major league baseball to hit 200 home runs before his age 25 season. Think about that. Aaron Judge is getting all the attention for hitting 52 home runs in his first season. Trout is only a few months older than Judge and he has four times the number of home runs. Trout didn’t need college baseball or the minor leagues to develop. He went yard off some of the MLB’s top pitchers as a teenager. In addition to a solid average and hitting dingers, Trout has excelled in just about every other sabermetric category, offensively and defensively. That is the reason he finished first or second in the MVP voting each of his first five seasons. He probably would have won last year, too, if it hadn’t been for a thumb injury that sidelined him over 40 games. He had to settle for fourth. That’s the other thing. Some young players lose some of their best seasons to injuries. Not Trout. Even when the golden boy got hurt last season, he managed to come back and finish strong with 33 home runs and a league leading 1.071 OPS. It probably angers pragmatists everywhere to say that a 25 year old is a foolproof hall of famer, but c’mon! The Millville Meteor has and can do no wrong. Until he bats .250 with under 20 home runs, the future is clear. Trout is a hall of famer. Period.