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Mike Trout's AL MVP Quest Poised to Finally End in 2014

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Mike Trout's AL MVP Quest Poised to Finally End in 2014
Leon Halip/Getty Images

We all know that Mike Trout’s toolbox is limitless. The magic of the guy is that he continually flashes new tools.

Much like opposing teams study spray charts and advance scouting reports looking for miracles to defend him, Trout pores over the Doppler.

“He’s like a weatherman,” teammate Josh Hamilton says. “He loves storms.”

When the Angels were in Kansas City last month wondering whether they were going to be able to beat a monster thunderstorm and get that night’s game in, Trout kept them updated.

“It’s coming,” he told teammates. “It’s coming.”

Batting practice came and went, the Angels returned to their clubhouse and there was Trout with the latest.

“It’s coming,” Trout warned. “It’s coming.”

Sure enough, that night, the heavens opened and the Angels and Royals were stuck with two long rain delays that dragged out the game for more than seven hours.

“Somebody said, ‘Look, he’s a six-tool player!’” Hamilton says, chuckling. “I told him, ‘If you bunted a little more, you’d be a seven-tool player.

Five tools, six, seven…as Trout races toward his third All-Star Game in three seasons and surely, finally, his first AL MVP award, who’s even counting anymore?

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

When he steps onto Target Field in Minnesota on Tuesday night, July 15, he will become only the fourth American League outfielder with three All-Star selections before the age of 23, joining Mickey Mantle (1952-1954), Al Kaline (1955-1957) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1990-1992).

“It’s pretty special to be in the conversation with those names,” says Trout, who turns 23 on August 7. “It means a lot.”

At 22, Trout this summer is doing what to mere mortals would be the impossible: Following two seasons in which he finished second in MVP voting to the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera despite ranking arguably as the game’s best overall player, he is even better in 2014.

With the Angels finally catching the momentum of his vapor trail—they owned the second-best record in the majors on Tuesday at 52-36—this should be the season that Trout wins the first of what should be multiple MVP awards.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

“I don’t know how you can improve too much when the guy does stuff that nobody in the history of baseball has done,” Angels ace Jered Weaver said. “But the sky is the limit. He keeps producing more than before.”

“In 2012, he had more volume in stolen bases,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “But you weren’t getting the impact in the batter’s box that you’re getting this year. Which is absurd to say because in 2012, he had great impact in the batter’s box.

“He’s finding ways to expand the upper reaches of how good he can be. I hate to use a cliche, but I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He led the AL with a .995 OPS into Tuesday night’s game against the Blue Jays, ranked second with 48 extra-base hits and third with a .596 slugging percentage and 190 total bases.

He is on pace for a career-high 350 total bases. He is the only major leaguer this season with at least 20 homers, 20 doubles and five triples.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

And more than halfway through the summer, Trout is easily on pace for a third consecutive campaign with an OPS of .950 or higher, something only two players in history have done through their age-22 season: Ted Williams (1939-1941) and Jimmie Foxx (1928-1930).

Nobody then or now had as much impact at the plate, on the bases and in the field at age 22 as Trout.

And yet...

“He’s better this year,” Angels bench coach Dino Ebel said. “I see it physically. I see it mentally. He gets better every game.

“Even in the dugout, you hear him talk about the game, what he sees, what he thinks is going to happen. To be that young and have a mind like that, it’s off the charts.”

This spring, Ebel, at Trout’s request, spent hours working to improve Trout’s arm.

“For years, and it gets back to the player, it’s been known that the softest of his five tools is his arm,” Dipoto said. “So he went and made it better. That might be the hardest thing to do, for a player, at this stage. And he went and did it.”

Even now, during the season, every other series, home or away, Ebel runs Trout through drills designed to improve his accuracy when throwing to the bases. And Trout diligently performs exercises designed by Dr. Frank Jobe, the renowned orthopedist, to strengthen his arm and shoulder.

“Before, his arm was below average,” Ebel said. “Now, it’s average to plus, more plus—with plus accuracy.”

He led the league as a rookie with 49 steals in ‘12. He picks his spots more now, with both Albert Pujols and Hamilton hitting behind him, and has swiped 10 bags this summer without being caught once.

Best of all, in the Angels’ eyes, the most important stat in the world to Trout is wins. He cannot get away from MVP talk, so controversial were his two second-place finishes to Cabrera, but does his best to deflect it.

“I’m not thinking about that,” he said. “I’m more worried about the team winning.

“At the end of the year, it would be huge. But the only things on my list right now are things to help the team win. We like where we are.”

Trout’s engaging, infectious enthusiasm has helped the young Angels gain confidence and play better, and it’s even helped loosen up the perpetually serious Pujols. Far more than any potential MVP award, what Trout mostly is interested in promoting this week is teammate Garrett Richards' campaign in the AL’s Final Vote for the All-Star Game.

The two were drafted together in 2009 and came up through the minor leagues together.

“You know, it’s gone by so quickly,” Trout said, pondering the idea of his third All-Star Game. “Me and Garrett were just talking yesterday, it seems like yesterday that me and him were in Salt Lake City and Cedar Rapids.

“It’s pretty crazy.”

What impresses Richards over and over is that as Trout’s star has ascended as if by rocket fuel, he’s remained the same guy who practically knew the first name of each Domino’s pizza deliveryman back in Triple-A.

“On and off the field,” Richards said. “Generous. Very unselfish. He hasn’t changed one bit.”

Richards tells some very entertaining stories about how much Trout likes to eat and the quantities he devours.

“Anything having to do with wings,” Richards said. “He can eat an unbelievable amount of wings. I’ll be sitting there watching, and it’s unbelievable.”

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In other words, same feeling most of us get when watching Trout go over the fence to bring another home run back…or wallop a walk-off homer, as he’s done twice this year. Though, to some, the legend of Mike Trout far exceeds that.

“I don’t feel comfortable talking about October in July when you have Mike Trout hitting game-winning homers every other night,” Oakland GM Billy Beane memorably quipped after acquiring starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs in an effort to strengthen the Athletics’ grip on the AL West.

“He’s bigger, stronger and faster than everybody else at this level,” Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. “Some of the stuff he can do, nobody else can do. He stays inside the ball really well, but a lot of guys stay inside the ball really well.”

Is it any wonder Trout seems to have a permanent smile on his face and talks over and over about having fun? Guys blessed with such extraordinary gifts, they don’t feel the stress so many of the rest of us do.

“I didn’t want to say that,” Iannetta said, grinning. “He definitely has fun out there.”

He and the Angels both, following two bitterly disappointing summers. Finally, October and an MVP award are looking better each week.

“It’s got to happen,” Richards said of Trout and the MVP. “You can only finish second so many times.”

It’s coming, just like that thunderstorm in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago. You know it’s coming.

“He’s a weather guy,” Ebel said, grinning. “He told me, ‘When my career is over, I’m going to go out and chase tornadoes.’ Like in one of those cars, he wants to go chase tornadoes.”

The tornadoes, they won’t have a chance.

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball here. 

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