And there’s another player to whom Harper often has been compared, one who has in many ways is having a more impressive rookie season than Harper: Mike Trout, the 20-year old speedy center fielder and dynamic leadoff hitter for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the second-youngest player in the majors.
Trout’s career so far has often developed in the shadow of Harper, 14 months his junior. He wasn’t depicted on magazine covers at 16 years old as “baseball’s chosen one,” nor has he been the subject of breathless debates over his kiss-blowing brash attitude.
Trout is a buzz-cut, all-smiles player who blossomed from an exceptional prospect to an elite one at Millville High in South New Jersey school. The 25th overall pick of the 2009 draft, he was named Baseball America’s 2011 Minor League Player of the Year over players such as Harper. The two played together in last year’s Arizona Fall League and became friends, two of baseball’s brightest future stars.
Trout, like Harper, doesn’t yet qualify for among league-wide leaders based on plate appearances. If he did entering Friday’s games, however, he would rank sixth in the majors in batting average (.341), eighth in on-base percentage (.401) and 13th in on-base plus slugging percentage (.942). He leads the majors in stolen bases (16) and has hit six home runs and driven in 26 runs in 192 plate appearances.
And much like Harper, Trout has provided a lift at the plate and in the field for a team that needed it. Since his 2012 debut on April 28, coincidentally the same day as Harper’s debut, the Angels are 28-16, after opening the season 6-14.
Trout can just as easily hit the ball for power with his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame as he can lay down a bunt for a hit with his speed. Eddie Bane, the former Angels’ scouting director when they selected Trout as the 25th overall pick of the 2009 draft, said his scouts clocked Trout at 3.89 seconds from home to first base; excellent speed is around 4.0 seconds.
When the Nationals called up Harper earlier than originally planned because of injuries to some of the Nationals’ top hitters, General Manager Mike Rizzo said he would look to Trout as a possible template on how to handle Harper. If Harper struggled, as Trout did last season in his brief stint with the team, the Nats would send him back to Class AAA Syracuse.
The Angels also promoted Trout out of need last season, but he hit .220/.281/.390 in 40 games and 123 plate appearances and blossomed into one of the best minor leaguers in the sport after returning to Class AAA. Now, like Harper, he’s a potential all-star.
“I’m not doing what Trout’s doing,” Harper said. “… He’s blowing my numbers away.”