Trout leads fresh crop of shining All-Stars
Angels phenom more prepared for second trip to Midsummer Classic
NEW YORK -- This year's All-Star Game will begin with Mike Trout, the Angels' 21-year-old outfielder who's already good enough to be the leadoff hitter for the American League. Shortly after 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, he'll dig into the box, tap the shin guards of National League catcher Yadier Molina, adjust his batting gloves, wave his bat in the air, lift his head and stare down Mets flame-thrower Matt Harvey.
"I've heard some people say he's got some nasty stuff," Trout said from his podium during Monday's media session, shortly after touching down from Seattle. "I haven't seen him. I'm not going to watch film because it'd be kind of weird watching film at the All-Star Game. I'm just going to go out there, have some fun and get my pitch."
The All-Star Game is discernibly younger this time. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez aren't here; Harvey (24), the Orioles' Manny Machado (21), the Nationals' Bryce Harper (20) and the Marlins' Jose Fernandez (20) are. And Trout -- one of baseball's most-talked-about players at this time last year -- is still in many ways the face of this dynamic youth movement at Citi Field.
It's different now, though.
"I know what to expect this time," Trout said of his second All-Star Game in as many years. "Last time it was kind of like a whirlwind. I was going here, going there. And now it's just time to take it all in and have some fun."
Trout marveled at shaking hands with legendary closer Mariano Rivera, in the final season of a Hall of Fame career. And he beamed at the sight of departed mentor Torii Hunter, an All-Star at age 37 thanks to a .315 batting average.
Hunter still talks to Trout at least once a week because, as he said, "All the failures in my life, I try to make sure he doesn't go through them. He's like my project."
"He's a lot more mature," said the Tigers' right fielder of Trout. "He knows the game, he's talking about the game more. He'll call me, we'll talk about different hitting stances, we'll talk about how he feels at the plate, how I feel, whatever. And he has great answers. This is stuff that you just don't know; you have to go through it to figure it out. He's giving me more mature answers and mature questions, so I definitely think that he's growing.
"He still has room to grow -- which is scary -- but I definitely think he's there."
Trout, the lone representative of his franchise and the first Angels position player to start the All-Star Game since Vladimir Guerrero in 2007, went into the season with unrelenting pressure to live up to the massive expectations of 2012. But the .322/.399/.565 slash line he carries through his first 92 games is almost in tune with where he was at this point last year -- .340/.402/.592 -- and his strikeout and walk rates have improved, all at a time when the league was supposed to be adjusting to him.
"I mean, you would think a sophomore slump would be what happens to him this year," Hunter said. "But it didn't. He overcame all that."
He's added 15 homers, eight triples (tied for second in the Majors), 21 steals (tied for eighth), 65 runs (eighth) and a 5.7 Wins Above Replacement score (second), but none of it is surprising any more.
"He's one of the best players in this game right now," Machado said. "He has all five tools -- he can field, he can hit, he has power. It's impressive to watch."
When Trout put on 10 pounds in the offseason, outsiders weren't sure how it would affect his speed. When he hit .261 in April, they figured he'd put too much pressure on himself. When he moved to the No. 2 spot of the lineup, they believed he'd be uncomfortable. When he moved back to left field after getting hot as a center fielder, they thought he'd stop hitting again.
Everything about Trout has been a story.
That part hasn't changed.
"I'm kind of used to it by now," Trout said. "I figure every time I come into the clubhouse, if I'm hitting first, it's going to be a story; if I'm hitting second, it's going to be a story; if I'm playing left, it's going to make me hit bad. I'm used to it by now, so I don't really pay attention to it."
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.