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Monday, Oct. 27, 9:27 a.m.
Sports

LA Angels in Wild Card race because of one big fish

In the midst of one of the most thrilling Major League Baseball playoff races in recent memory, one player has shined brighter than the rest. Hopefully the addition of a second wild card spot has will allow his performance to continue into October.

His name is Mike Trout. Although Trout wasn’t on the Los Angeles Angels’ opening day roster, his presence has jump-started what was once an underachieving Angels team. With about one month to go in the regular season, the Angels looked to their rookie sensation to lead them to a playoff birth.

Entering the 2012 MLB season, the Angels were considered favorites to win one of the wild-card playoff spots. Because they share the American League West with two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers, the chances to win the division were slim, but it was a busy offseason for the Angels. After signing two superstars this winter, first baseman Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson, expectations were high. With veteran outfielders on the roster, the team decided to start the regular season without Trout, a former 25th overall draft pick.

After starting the season with a 6-14 record, the Angels decided to call up Mike Trout, only 20 years old and rated the third best prospect by “Baseball America.” Currently, the Angels are a few games out of a wild-card spot, and it’s all a result of Trout’s tremendous season.

At the time of his promotion to the major leagues, when the Angels were at their worst, Trout was batting over .400 with an OPS above 1.000 with the AAA Salt Lake Bees. Even though he accumulated those stats over a limited stretch, that doesn’t make it any less phenomenal. Although he appeared in 40 games last season at the major league level, Trout couldn’t secure a starting job until the release of 17-year veteran Bobby Abreu in late April.

What’s amazing about Trout’s season is that he not only turned around a failing Angel’s team, but he now leads in the American League Most Valuable Player race. Trout has totaled over 100 runs scored, 25 home runs and 40 steals on the season. His biggest competition for MVP is Detroit’s power-hitting third baseman, Miguel Cabrera.

Once Trout was called up, he immediately became the spark the Angels needed at the top of their lineup. As a true five-tool player, Trout brings power, ability to hit for average, blazing speed, a cannon for an arm and excellent fielding skills. His ability to get on base as the leadoff batter and use his speed to get into scoring position on the base paths was exactly what the Angels needed to turn around their season.

Mike Trout isn’t the only young outfielder succeeding in the majors this year. 19 year old Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals has had a comparable season. Both rookies were elected to their respective league’s All-Star team. They are also both starting center fielders for contending teams. What’s interesting is that Harper was a more highly touted prospect than Trout, but it’s Trout who’s having the more spectacular season.

Trout should be the unanimous choice to win AL Rookie of the Year. In baseball’s illustrious history, only two players have ever won both Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. Both Fred Lynn, in 1975, and Ichiro Suzuki, in 2001, accomplished this feat. Both players went on to have celebrated careers. Suzuki is still in the league, playing with the New York Yankees.

One way Trout’s season could be even more memorable is if his team makes the playoffs. Only a few games back, the Angels will need contributions from other players aside from Trout. Recently, their pitching staff has been in decline, and their starting rotation in particular has fallen apart. But even without a playoff birth, Los Angeles fans couldn’t be happier with Trout’s performance. His addition may have saved the Angels from a disaster season similar to the Boston Red Sox or Miami Marlins.

This unbelievable season from Trout will raise his expectations for the future. Some will compare Trout to Hall of Famers of the past, but it’s too early for such speculation.

With the season ending soon, the Angels will try to make a push for one of the last playoff spots. In third place in their own division, it’s likely the playoffs will be without the AL MVP favorite.

Even though their chances at the playoffs are slim, the Angels wouldn’t be where they are today without Trout. As a team filled with talented players, it’s hard to imagine the Angels on the outside looking in. If pitchers Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Zack Grienke can pitch to their potential, the Angels could be a World Series contender. But even if they’re not playing in October, the Angels future looks bright. At only 21-years old, Mike Trout has already become the leader of his team as well as one of the most exciting players in baseball.