Legendary New York Yankees Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle was without a doubt one of the best center fielders that ever played the game of baseball. His five-tool skills, combining hitting for average, hitting for power, base running skills and speed, throwing ability and fielding abilities were matched only by Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr.
However, a new young buck has entered the fold. Los Angeles Angels top-rated prospect Mike Trout is already drawing comparisons to the great Mickey Mantle, and Trout has yet to play a game above the single-A level.
It’s a pretty heady comparison for a kid who has yet to play a game at the Major League Baseball level. But thus far, Trout has not done anything to dissuade those who marvel at his abilities.
Drafted by the Los Angeles Angels out of Milville, NJ in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Trout has excelled at every stop thus far in the Angels’ minor league system, hitting .360 in the Arizona Rookie League after the draft, and then hitting a combined .341 at the single-A and advanced single-A levels last season.
Trout’s 56 stolen bases last season only added to his overall allure, and his .428 on-base percentage showed a disciplined plate attitude, considered exceptional for a player who was only 18 years old at the time.
The accolades and awards have already started to pile up for the young stud, being named the Most Valuable Player of the Midwest League and earning Class A All-Star honors by both Topps and Baseball America.
Late last year, Trout was named the number one minor league prospect by MLB.com.
However, the comparisons to the great Mantle are certainly premature. Remember when the sweet-swinging Will Clark was compared favorably to Ted Williams?
The Angels have already said that they have no intentions to rush Trout to the big leagues, despite his meteoric rise. The Angels have had a history of can’t-miss prospects who never lived up to the hype (Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman), so they are understandably taking their time with the young Mike Trout.
With Peter Bourjos, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter manning the outfield for the Angels, Trout will have time to continue to develop the skills that many believe will lead to a Hall of Fame career. Abe Flores, the player development director for the Angels, says the hype is all great and good, but that it’s important to not get over-excited.
"I wish everyone would just take a deep breath here," Flores told the Los Angeles Times. "There's been a lot of momentum around him, but everyone should keep their feet on the ground.
"I'm trying to quash people who are losing their minds comparing this kid to someone in the major leagues."
The Angels only have to look to Brandon Wood, who was the next can’t-miss prospect for the Angels. Wood suffered through a terrible 2010 season after being named the starting third baseman for the Halos, batting just .146 overall. While Wood will still battle for playing time in 2011, the expectations of greatness are far from fulfilled.
As for Trout, one baseball expert believes that the sky could be the limit.
"I haven't talked to anyone who's seen Trout who hasn't raved about him," said Jim Callis, an editor at Baseball America. "One scout I talked to said Trout was the favorite prospect he's ever scouted.
"Another told me he saw him hit a 400-foot home run, and in his next at-bat, he dropped a bunt and got to first in 3.65 seconds. Four seconds is top speed for a major leaguer."
Mickey Mantle was a legend. Mike Trout could be a legend in the making.
For continuing coverage of the Los Angeles Angels, follow Doug on Twitter @Sports_A_Holic.
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