One thing you don’t do: You don’t look at a 16-year-old boy — supremely talented as he is — and predict that in five years he’ll be the best all-around player in Major League Baseball, a potentially historic figure.
No, it happens much more slowly than that. The boy keeps getting better. The scouts start coming around, from colleges and the pros, and they start talking about his “ceiling” — he could be a big leaguer someday, or he could be an everyday big leaguer — and every time they set a new ceiling for the boy, he smashes through it.
The same thing happens in the minor leagues — he wins a batting title in Class AA at age 19 — until suddenly, Mike Trout arrives fully formed in the big leagues at 19, and a year or so later people will be asking whether he has produced the greatest rookie season in history, and he will be voted the American League’s rookie of the year and finish runner-up for the MVP, as well.
And now? Now, Trout is 21, and no less a phenom, even though he has more than 1,000 plate appearances under his belt for the Los Angeles Angels. Now, the question to ask is this:
What, exactly, is Mike Trout’s ceiling?
Begin with some WAR. Wins above replacement, or WAR, is the catch-all stat, popularized in the last decade, that aims to measure a player’s overall value, factoring in not only his batting skills but his defense and base running as well. It has been a useful tool for front-office types and media members — until Trout came along, with his almost unprecedented mix of power, hitting prowess, speed and defense, and nearly broke it.
Of all the men to play big league baseball, only one position player has posted a WAR above 10 (as measured at baseball-reference.com) at the age of 20 or younger: Mike Trout, 2012. There seemed to be no precedent for him — or if there was, it was only a rarefied group that includes Alex Rodriguez (9.3 in 1996), Al Kaline (8.3 in 1955), Mel Ott (7.4 in 1929), Ty Cobb (6.8 in 1907) and Ted Williams (6.7 in 1939).
“I thought he was special,” said Jeff Trout, who had been a minor league infielder in the 1980s, advancing to Class AA with the Minnesota Twins. “We’ve seen him do some amazing things. But to say it happened this sudden? Yeah, we’re all a little taken aback by that.”
In 2013, the sequel to that remarkable rookie season, Trout started slowly (a .261 batting average, .333 on-base percentage and .432 slugging percentage in April), but since May 1 he has posted numbers (.333/.412/.631, with 10 home runs and 27 RBI) that exceed even his gaudy 2012 totals.