One of my favorite things is revisionist history, because it gives me a chance to revise history.
One of my favorite players is Mike Trout, because he’s a lot of fun to watch and he’s the best player in baseball.
Today, I am going two of my favorite things, and I’m going to create some revisionist history with Mike Trout.
Right now, Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. It’s not even close. He has provided more value for the Angels than any player in the league, and he’s doing it at the age of 24, which is ridiculous. What Mike Trout has done is ridiculous. That they got a player like this with the 25th pick of the 2009 draft is all the more amazing.
Let’s go back to June of 2009. The Hangover was making you laugh and Up was making you cry, the dulcet tones of the All-American Rejects were blasting on your iPod, and a barely known outfielder named Michael Nelson Trout was intriguing scouts with his athleticism in Millville, New Jersey.
Let’s keep a couple things in mind. First, Mike Trout was not the best prospect in the 2009 draft class. In fact, Trout wasn’t particularly close to that level. Stephen Strasburg was not only the best prospect in that draft, he was the best draft prospect on paper of the past decade. Maybe ever. Second, the Garden State prior to Trout did not exactly have a glowing track record, and we were just coming off the failure of former Orioles first-rounder Billy Rowell. Whether or not it’s wrong to hold a player’s area against him is another article, but it definitely happens.
So, with Trout being a first-round talent—but not a transcendent one—and with questions about the area, let’s play the what if game. What if Mike Trout doesn’t get taken by the Angels with pick 25, slides into what we now call day two, and chooses to honor his commitment to East Carolina University?
Trout would have had to beat out Trent Whitehead, an All-Conference player who made a preseason All-American team as a junior, to be the starting center fielder. Something tells me he would have probably earned that spot, or at the very least, would have played every day in the corner outfield.
In 2010, Trout hit .341/.428/.490 with 10 homers and 56 steals in 131 games at Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Because this is my what-if game, I get to set the comparisons and set the adjustments on his collegiate stats. Clemson’s Seth Beer was the best freshman in the country in 2016, hitting .369/.535/.700 with 18 homers. Mike Trout is better than Seth Beer, and would have faced worse competition (Conference USA compared to the ACC), AND it was the last year of the not-dead bats. We’ll bump everything five percentage points: .419/.585/.750, with 25 homers and 40 stolen bases. Mike Trout is already a star and the prohibitive favorite to be the first pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.
As mentioned above, 2011 was the first year of the NCAA “deadening” the bats to try and keep offense under control. You think a deadened aluminum bat is gonna keep Mike Trout down? As a 19-year-old, Trout hit .326/.414/.544 at Double-A Arkansas, and then—especially for a teenager—held his own for a quarter of a season as a big-leaguer.
There is no collegiate comp for this. There just isn’t. This is Dustin Ackley’s college hit tool with Kris Bryant’s power but way better. Oh wait, maybe there is a comp. Dustin Ackley hit .417 with a .517 on-base percentage. Kris Bryant slugged .671 with 14 homers in his sophomore year. Mike Trout is better than both of those players, but we won’t increase the batting average too much, because BABIP is a real thing. We’ll say Mike Trout hits .420/.530/.800 with 30 homers and another 50 steals. Mike Trout has become the greatest college baseball player to ever live, and barring an injury or off-the-field nonsense, is going to be the first player taken in the 2012 draft.
In 2012, as a 20-year-old until August, Mike Trout was the best player in baseball. If not for geography and the belief that a stat created for baseball cards was important, he would have been the MVP of the American League. Mike Trout hit .326/.399/.564, hit 30 homers, and stole 49 bases.
I don’t know how you even begin to extrapolate this to the collegiate level, but I’ll try. First, the on-base percentage is going way up, because I have no idea why you’d try and pitch to this dude if you’re a team in Conference USA. In his junior season, Bryant walked 66 times. Assuming he doesn’t become frustrated by being pitched around/intentionally walked a lot, I think 100 walks for Trout is a fair assumption. The batting average and slugging percentage probably stay right around the same as the sophomore season, but a big jump in the OBP sees his line of .420/.630/.800. That’s basically Bonds in 2004. Goodness gracious.
So, we’ve had fun with the numbers, which leads me to two important questions, one easier to answer than the other. Let’s start with the easy one. The draft. This is the first year that the new Draft Allocated fund rules are in place. The Houston Astros had $11,177,700 dollars to spend on their class. The first pick that year came with a pool amount of $7.2 million dollars. The largest bonus ever given to a draft prospect was Gerrit Cole the previous year for $8 million dollars. I cannot imagine that Trout gets anything less than the recommended slot, and I would guess with this kind of prestige, he’s getting at least what Cole got. If the bonus doesn’t exist (this is a good dream), you’re probably looking at double that, maybe even triple. It wouldn’t stun me one bit if he was a $25 million dollar bonus player. If he was Cuban, he’d get double that. He’d be worth so much more, but it’s tough for me to believe he’d get anywhere close to the real value, which is probably right around $60 million-$70 million. Then again, maybe Trout is so good someone sucks it up and pays it. Maybe Trout is so good that he breaks a system that would have only been in place for months. It’s fun to dream, isn’t it?
Now, the harder question. Where would that rank Trout among the all-time great, young baseball players. Let’s be honest, college baseball has grown some in popularity, but when you compare it to basketball and football, it’s an afterthought. Can you tell me who won the Golden Spikes Awards when Trout would have been in college? Bryce Harper, Trevor Bauer and Mike Zunino. All three “famous” prospects (we could do this whole article on Bryce Harper, too), but compare that to the three guys who won the Heisman Trophy at that point in their careers: Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Johnny Manziel. All three of those guys were world famous before they were (legally) paid to play. All that being said, we’ve never seen numbers like this at the college level, and he was doing it while playing elite defense in center field, which I purposely have not mentioned until now because holy crap you forgot about how good at defense he is, didn’t you? Would we be saying the same thing about Mike Trout if he had three years of doing that? Would he have taken college baseball to a whole new level? Would he have made that year’s draft a ratings bonanza? No, probably not, and maybe for a year.
We can’t say for sure because, well, none of us have the power to go back in time and look at it, but it’s fascinating to think about how underrated Mike Trout would have been from a historical standpoint had he gone to college.
Thank you for reading
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