Mike Trout driven by playoff loss

ByJerry Crasnick ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 25, 2015

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Trout arrived for the Los Angeles Angels' first full-squad workout Wednesday with a three-pronged agenda for 2015.

He wants to reduce his strikeouts. He would like to increase his stolen base total. And he's intent on erasing the rancid aftertaste from a division series playoff loss after the Angels won a major league-high 98 games and the American League West title.

Trout collected his first MVP award in 2014 but went 1-for-12 as the Angels were swept in three games by the Kansas City Royals. The emptiness of that quick departure -- and his personal shortcomings on the big stage -- gnawed at him during the offseason.

"It was a terrible feeling," Trout said Wednesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "A lot of the guys who were here last year know they don't want to have that same feeling. To have that be my first [postseason] experience, it was definitely tough. You see your friends over the winter, and they sometimes bring it up. The first thing that comes to your mind is 'We lost.'"

Trout, 23, appears ready to embrace the "face of baseball" designation bequeathed to him by Derek Jeter's retirement. Trout's face adorns a billboard in Los Angeles along with Dodgers pitcher and fellow MVP winner Clayton Kershaw, and the two young stars spent several hours together Tuesday filming a commercial for Subway.

In three big league seasons, Trout has put up numbers that place him in the company of some historic baseball names. Last season, he joined Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline and Ken Griffey Jr. as the fourth AL outfielder to make three All-Star teams before age 23.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Trout also joined Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews and Mel Ott as the fourth player in MLB history with three 25-homer seasons by age 22.

But Trout also displayed a flaw or two. After striking out 139 and 136 times in his first two seasons, he led the AL in 2014 with 184 whiffs. He attributed the spiraling strikeout total to a lack of plate discipline and some mechanical glitches -- such as a failure to get his foot down in time and his head moving too much at the plate.

Trout finished with a .287 batting average after hitting .326 and .323 in his first two seasons. Although he is not a big proponent of watching video, he plans to address some of his deficiencies in the cage with Angels hitting coach Don Baylor this spring.

"Plain and simple, I was chasing the high pitch," Trout said. "Everybody knows that. The majority of the time, they were balls. Obviously, you don't want to strike out. I'd like to put the ball in play and let my legs help me get a few more hits."

Trout stole only 16 bases last year after recording 49 and 33 steals in his first two seasons. He checked in at 239 pounds, almost the same as his playing weight of 238 last season, but expressed a desire to run more in 2015.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia is on board with that objective, provided the opportunities are available for Trout.

"When you're trying to beat a 3.05-[second] combo between the pitcher and catcher and you're running 3.15 or 3.2, which Mike is capable of, time isn't on your side," Scioscia said. "So you have to pick your spots. I don't think there was a guy in baseball who had more attention paid to him when he got on base than Mike last year. Some teams went to extremes to shut him down. He's going to steal as many bases as are available without forcing action you don't need to."

Last year around this time, Trout was in the process of finalizing a six-year, $144 million contract extension with the Angels. But he remains unaffected by fame. The Corvette that he won as All-Star Game MVP is in the garage back home in New Jersey, and the big highlight of his offseason was a vacation fishing trip to the Bahamas, where he caught a few barracuda.

He shrugs over the expectations that have come with his designation as heir to Jeter's "face of baseball" legacy.

"I don't think about it," Trout said. "I just go out there and compete and play, and whatever you guys write, it's what it is. I try to go out there and be a good role model for kids and stay out of trouble and play the game the right way."

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