Trout's versatility gives Halos intriguing options
Current leadoff man could make Scioscia's lineup even stronger from No. 2 spot
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Trout vividly remembers his first big league plate appearance. Like a dream first date, it's something a guy doesn't forget.
It was 2010, Trout was 18, and it was his first Spring Training camp. He was asked to come along to Tucson as a late-game fill-in for a Cactus League exercise with the Rockies, largely because that was the bus trip veterans hated to make.
"Hit a line drive to right-center," Trout recalled, a gleam in his eyes. "Got a triple."
Old-time baseball guys looked at each other in disbelief. The kid was a blur on the basepaths.
Without a hint of fanfare, a star was launched that day. Angels manager Mike Scioscia spoke in glowing terms about Trout in the Tucson sun as the players boarded the bus for the journey back to Tempe.
The New Jersey kid, born to run and play this game, has come a long way in three years.
Trout is the talk of the sport, very possibly the most accomplished 21-year-old player the game has seen. Much has been made this spring of his weight, but he'll burn it off and be right where he needs to be on Opening Day.
Trout is, hands down, the premier leadoff man in the Majors. Of course, he would be the best -- or one of the top two, with deference to Miguel Cabrera -- anywhere in the lineup.
For now, Scioscia is keeping the game's most versatile weapon at the top of the lineup. But the day is coming when Trout will move down, eventually settling in the No. 3 spot, where the elite hitters inevitably land.
"Mike can hit one through four in pretty much any lineup in baseball," Scioscia said on Wednesday at Tempe Stadium, where the Angels welcomed the reigning World Series champion Giants. "Right now, we like the component of him leading off to make the pitcher work to get that first out of the game. You want to set the table."
That's always a good idea. But there are few guys capable of clearing the table the way Trout can, which is why he projects as a prototypical No. 3 hitter. Albert Pujols has that role with the Angels, and the new guy behind him, Josh Hamilton, also has been known to drive in runs in bunches.
Where Trout best fits in the lineup is akin to wondering which role you'd like Jennifer Lawrence play in your next movie. You can't go wrong.
But the feeling here, expressed by several veterans with time to kill in a National League clubhouse the other day, is that Trout would be even more dangerous hitting second. An uninterrupted grouping of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton would be a horror show for pitchers.
Trout hit 30 homers despite spending most of last April with Triple-A Salt Lake. He was fourth in the Majors in slugging at .564. Trout's power would be exploited more effectively if he didn't feel compelled to focus on seeing pitches leading off. Only five hitters in the Majors swung at fewer first pitches than Trout's 9.4 percent.
Triple Crown winner Cabrera hacked at 34.3 percent of first pitches. Yet Trout managed to lead the Majors in runs created with 128 and in runs created per 27 outs at 8.69. Cabrera was sixth at 7.44.
"I just want to play," said Trout, who hit third in the Minors. "I'll hit wherever they think it's best."
Trout would have more freedom to drive the ball in the No. 2 hole, because he'd be dealing with fewer pitches off the plate and in the dirt with Messrs. Pujols and Hamilton coming behind him.
Scioscia's current plan is to mix and match in the second spot, occupied so capably last season by Torii Hunter, now setting up Cabrera and Prince Fielder for the reigning AL champion Tigers.
Erick Aybar, Howard Kendrick and Alberto Callaspo are the candidates to hit between Trout and Pujols. Peter Bourjos, Scioscia added, could hit his way into the mix.
Bourjos is expected to return to full-service duty in center field this season, with Trout moving to left and Hamilton in right, forming the most athletic outfield in memory.
Bourjos' 2012 season was basically a washout, owing largely to Trout's emergence and Mark Trumbo bombing away in left. But with Kendrys Morales dealt to the Mariners, an opening has been created for Bourjos, who was a weapon in 2011 with a .271 average and an American League-high 11 triples along with 26 doubles, 12 homers and 22 steals. All those numbers, particularly the steals, likely would be higher if he'd hit higher than eighth or ninth, where he was slotted in 175 of his 235 career starts.
Bourjos, one of the few men in the game who'd be right with Trout in a foot race, led off throughout his Minor League career. The questions now focus on his plate discipline, but he had a .364 on-base percentage in 109 Triple-A games at Salt Lake.
Bourjos has shown he can hit big league pitching, and most players -- Trout being an extreme exception -- become more selective as experience teaches them to control adrenaline.
A top third of Bourjos, Trout and Pujols, followed by Hamilton, Trumbo, Kendrick, Aybar, Callaspo and Chris Iannetta, would offer a combination of speed and power.
"We have two of the fastest guys in baseball in Mike and Pete," Scioscia said, "and Erick Aybar's not far behind."
Scioscia experienced firsthand, as the Dodgers' catcher, the 1980s Runnin' Redbirds of Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee. A combination of Bourjos, Aybar and Trout -- Speed, Inc. -- could have a similar impact.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.