TEMPE, Ariz. -- Even though 2012 rookie sensation Mike Trout reported to the Los Angeles Angels spring training camp with 10 extra pounds he now wears on his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame, there is an unmistakable lightness in his step.
On a recent unusually overcast and cool morning at Tempe Diablo Stadium where the Angels play their Cactus League games, Trout was as playful as you might expect any 21-year-old to be, laughing easily around the batting cage during BP, joyfully talking hitting with veteran teammates Vernon Wells and Josh Hamilton, and generally enjoying himself as much as a college kid on spring break.
The reason isn't difficult to uncover. Trout -- the living, breathing, walking embodiment of the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) rating -- is happy, healthy and unabashedly enjoying life as one baseball's youngest yet brightest stars.
"I feel great and I'm just happy to be out there," Trout told Perfect Game from the Angels' star-stacked clubhouse at Tempe Diablo. "The last couple of springs have been tough for me when I was hurt and I got sick; the name of the game is to stay healthy and just being able to go out there and compete and have some fun. I'm feeling great and I'm just excited to be out there on the field."
And he's enjoying a pretty good spring, at least in terms of making contact at the plate. Through his first nine Cactus League games, Trout was 7-for-22 (.318) with a double and an RBI. He had also walked six times -- good for a .464 on-base percentage -- and stolen a base in two tries.
That compares to last spring here when Trout suffered from what was described as some sort of "mysterious" virus that caused him to lose strength and 10 pounds, and limited him to only three spring training games. He was a long-shot to make the Angels' Opening Day roster to begin with, but the illness sealed the deal and he started the season at Triple-A Salt Lake.
"I got sick last year and that hurt me not being out on the field because I was in the training room a lot," Trout said. "It's different this year. We've only got one thing on our mind this year and that's to get to the postseason and we're going to do everything we can and work hard during the spring and get to where we need to be for opening day."
The events of 2012 remind us that Trout didn't stay in Salt Lake very long. The Angels, who had signed superstar slugger Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million free agent contract during the offseason, lost 14 of their first 20 games.
Before April was completely in the books, Trout was playing centerfield and batting at the top of Angels' skipper Mike Scioscia's batting order. Trout had a 40-game call-up in 2011 but this time he was in the big leagues to stay.
The Angels streaked to an 83-59 (.627) record after their horrendous start but they had fallen too far back to catch the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers in the American League West standings, and missed the playoffs. Following that late April call-up, Trout proceeded to turn-in one of the most amazing rookie seasons in baseball history.
In the new "slash" stats (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) he hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs and 83 RBI. He scored 129 runs, stole 49 bases and posted that much-discussed 10.7 WAR rating, all major league highs. At season's end he was the unanimous choice for the AL Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera from the Detroit Tigers.
"It's been crazy, and it definitely went quick," Trout said of this past offseason. "I had a fun time with my teammates and my family, just taking it all in. Just being a part of everything really meant a lot to me."
Trout grew up in Millville, N.J., and graduated from Millville High School in the spring of 2009; he had committed to East Carolina. He participated in eight Perfect Game WWBA tournaments in 2007 and 2008 as a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder, including two PG WWBA World Championships in Jupiter, Fla., playing with Tri-State Arsenal/Cust D-Jacks. He got enough exposure at the PG WWBA tournaments that he had climbed all the way to No. 8 in PG's class of 2009 national prospect rankings by the time he was a senior.
"Those were great experiences," Trout said as a smile crossed his face. "Just to get out of Jersey and see the competition from all across the country and to compete against other players that were doing the same things you were trying to do -- get to the professional level. It was just good to get that exposure."
Many draft observers projected Trout to be a top-15 selection in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft, but he was still on the board when the Angels plucked him with the No. 26 overall pick in the first round. He quickly signed and spent the summer of 2009 in the Arizona Rookie League with five games in the Low-Class A Midwest League with the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels.
He played 81 more games in Cedar Rapids in 2010, and used those three-plus months of games to cement his claim as the Angels' top minor league prospect. He hit .362 (113-for-368) with 28 doubles, seven triples, six home runs, 39 RBI and 76 runs scored; perhaps most eye-popping, he stole 45 bases in 54 attempts.
Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium, where the Kernels play their home games, is less than a block down the street from PG's headquarters on Cedar Rapids' near southwest side. PG personnel and thousands of other Cedar Rapidians got another eyeful of Trout that summer.
"I liked Cedar Rapids a lot," he said. "I'm a big 'country' guy and being around that atmosphere was great. People came out and watched the games and I liked the way the fans were into the game, and it was definitely a cool experience for me."
Trout was called up to High-A Rancho Cucamonga in the California League for the final third of the 2010 season and spent most of 2011 at Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League; he played 20 games for Salt Lake in 2012. All told, in 289 minor league games spread over parts of four seasons, Trout hit .342 with 57 doubles, 34 triples, 23 home runs, 134 RBI and 239 runs, with 108 stolen bases in 136 attempts.
He worked extremely hard last season to make sure a return to the minor leagues would never be considered. He leaned heavily on the talented veterans that populated the Angels' clubhouse, perhaps none more so than nine-time Gold Glove outfielder Torri Hunter. Trout will have to find another mentor this season, as Hunter accepted a two-year, $26 million free agent deal from the Detroit Tigers during the offseason.
Perhaps no one appreciated Hunter's guidance more than Trout's mother, Debbie, who offered this "tweet" on her Twitter account after Hunter inked his deal:
"@toriihunter48 Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! Mike has learned from the Best!!!We will miss you but see you in Detroit!!!"
To which Hunter replied:
"@DebbieTrout27 no mama! Thanks to u for raising such a great kid. He was easy to work with and talk to. @Trouty20 is a special kid."
Judging by their interaction during BP last week, the veteran Wells -- who struggled in 2012 and lost his starting job to Trout -- may have stepped in to take over for Hunter in the mentoring department. Trout only wants to absorb as much knowledge as he can.
"I learn new things everyday while I'm just trying to get better every day," he said. "You learn something new every day just while you're trying to be the best. My number-one goal coming in was always to get to the big leagues and stay up here; that's the main thing. You get there, that's one thing, but staying up here is definitely the key."
With Trout leading off and the likes of Pujols, Hamilton, Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales filling the middle of the order, the Angels' lineup will be formidable. Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson will anchor the rotation, but the losses of Ervin Santana, Dan Haren and Zack Greinke will hurt.
Anyway it plays out, Trout feels the Angels can definitely compete with Texas and Oakland for an AL West Division crown this season. Heck, Trout's even looking forward to the April 1st season-opener, an interleague game at the defending NL Central Division champion Cincinnati Reds. A happy, healthy Mike Trout just can't wait to get started.
"We have a long way to go right now," Trout said. "We feel great and we're always ready to get prepared for game one; I think it's going to be the biggest one of the year."