ANAHEIM, Calif. — The first time Mike Trout played against his idol, he was a raw 19-year-old just a few weeks removed from his Los Angeles Angels debut. He couldn't quite believe he was standing on a major league field talking to Derek Jeter.
"It's crazy, surreal," Trout recalled. "Almost like, is this really happening?"
A year later, at the ripe old age of 20, Trout was more prepared, more confident, and even more determined to show both the Angels and Jeter's Yankees why he's already ready for the big leagues.
Trout has been on a tear since Los Angeles promoted him again five weeks ago, batting .303 with five homers, 16 RBIs, 21 runs and eight stolen bases in just 30 games. He has established himself as a speedy leadoff hitter and a phenomenal outfielder who catches just about anything hit his way, producing almost nightly highlights with his bat or glove.
The Yankees learned all about it when Trout made a series of stunning catches in left field to go along with three extra-base hits during the Angels' series victory over New York this week.
"I definitely feel more comfortable up here this time," Trout said. "It's just knowing more about the pitchers and more about the outfields, how to get to balls out there. I'm just trying to keep it going."
As the son of a former minor leaguer from southern New Jersey, Trout realized much of the baseball world was watching when the Angels faced the Yankees. Not only did he seize the stage, but Trout demonstrated why his latest call-up to the Angels is looking more permanent by the day.
Count the Yankees among those who are impressed.
"He's been a game-changer, offensively, defensively," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "The kid has got a lot of talent, a ton. Usually when you see a guy that fast, you don't anticipate him hitting the ball that hard. What he's doing at 20, it's really pretty amazing. You think about it, most guys don't hit triples down the left-field line."
That's exactly what Trout did Tuesday night, showing off the blazing speed that Angels manager Mike Scioscia believes is unparalleled in the AL. With fellow speedster Peter Bourjos patrolling center field and nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter in right, it's tough to imagine a better defensive outfield than the Angels' current trio.
"The way we look at it is, no balls can drop in the gap," Trout said. "That's a big thing for me and Pete. We're always trying to catch everything."
This time around, Trout is no longer the youngest player in the majors after the promotion of Bryce Harper, Washington's teenage phenom. He held that distinction last season during two call-ups over nine weeks with the Angels, batting .220 and never really finding a groove.
The Angels never doubted Trout's ability, however. Once he learned more about the mental approach necessary to maximize those skills, he has been everything Los Angeles expected.
"I'm not going to compare him to Bryce Harper, but I can't imagine anyone being more skilled at that age," Angels right-hander Dan Haren said. "He can do it all. Coming up at first, he was a little bit cocky, a confident kid, but he has really changed for the better. He handles his business in the clubhouse, off the field. He's just a great kid. He's taking his success in stride.
"He's not walking around acting like a big shot. He was one of the best prospects in the game, and now he's one of the best outfielders in the game. It's going to be fun to watch him."
Trout's talent has been obvious since shortly after the Angels drafted him out of high school late in the first round in 2009. He has regularly topped lists of baseball's top prospects, and the Angels looked for a balance between challenging and overwhelming Trout.
"I don't think we would have thought about putting him in the position last year if we didn't think that his makeup and his confidence would allow him to go in there and do what he could do," Scioscia said. "I think he's used that as a stepping stone to get to where he is this year, and I think there's no doubt his talent is real, and he's going to have a big impact on our organization."Comment on this story
Trout didn't make the Angels' roster out of spring training this year, but he hit .403 at Triple-A Salt Lake before the Angels recalled him April 28, releasing veteran Bobby Abreu. Trout played center field until Vernon Wells injured his thumb in mid-May, allowing Scioscia to play Trout and Bourjos together.
Trout said having a regular role "is big. You definitely get more comfortable in the leadoff spot. I've played my whole life there, in the minors as well. Just keeps my mind straight. I'm not worrying where I'm going to be in the lineup, where I'm going to play."
The Angels went on their longest winning streak in nearly three years after Trout moved over, pulling above .500 Tuesday for the first time since winning on opening day. Trout gets another big test this weekend with the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers in town, but his teammates think Trout is ready to lead off, yet still willing to learn.
"When you've got room to move like that, that shows you the potential that this kid has," Hunter said. "Give him five years from now, (when) he'll be 25, still super young, he'll know how to play this game through and through. He's going to be awesome."