It was entirely predictable. Once Mike Trout got the call to the majors on April 28th and decided to immediately become the best player in baseball, you could see the next question out of people’s mouths from a mile away. Who is going to be the next Mike Trout?
The problem with that question is that there are many ways you can define it. If you take it strictly on face value and are wondering when we’ll see another player come up from the minors and be as talented as Mike Trout, the answer is probably not for a while. Trout (along with fellow rookie Bryce Harper) is a generational talent, the likes of which we may not see again for another 15-20 years, if that. But you can also look at that question as meaning “who is the next player who was a little overlooked in the draft, but has superstar potential?” That’s a question we can work with in theory, but it also sets us up for extremely unrealistic expectations — and therein lies the bigger problem.
Mike Trout’s immediate and ridiculous success at both the minor and major league levels have turned this fairly innocuous question into a very loaded one. Now when you’re in a dynasty league, you’re always looking for that guy — a player who isn’t going to go in the top 5-10 picks in your draft, but has the upside of a fantasy stud. I was in two dynasty leagues prior to the 2010 season, and in both drafts, Trout went outside the top-15 picks (#17 and #20, respectively). So we look for signs as to why this happened, and what jumped out at me was the combination of Trout’s age when drafted and his initial success in rookie ball. So in the 2012 draft, I looked for hitters drafted in the first round that turned 18 within 3 months of draft day (June 4) and performed at a higher level that was anticipated in his first taste of pro ball. That list ended up being 4 players deep — and here they are, with their 2012 stats below:
David Dahl, 10th pick (4/1/94) – .379/.423/.625 with 9 HR, 12 SB and a 42-21 K/BB rate in 280 AB
Corey Seager, 18th pick (4/27/94) – .309/.383/.520 with 8 HR, 9 SB and a 33-21 K/BB rate in 175 AB
Striker Trahan, 26th pick (4/25/94) – .281/422/.473 with 5 HR, 8 SB and a 48-40 K/BB rate in 167 AB
Lewis Brinson, 29th pick (5/8/94) – .283/.345/.523 with 7 HR, 14 SB and a 74-21 K/BB rate in 237 AB
And for comparison’s sake…
Mike Trout in 2009, 25th pick (8/7/91) – .352/.419/.486 with 1 HR, 13 SB and a 28-18 K/BB rate in 179 AB
So how do I make the comment without generating unrealistic expectations for these players? Dahl has gotten the most hype out of these guys, which makes sense considering his video game stats and the fact that he was named MVP of the Pioneer League. It would be a perfectly reasonable statement to make if I said that he may be an undervalued asset going into dynasty league drafts this off-season. However, as soon as I bring Trout’s name into the conversation as an example of this, the point is lost. David Dahl is NOT Mike Trout, but he still has the chance to be a potential fantasy stud (especially playing in Colorado). In fact, the guy with the highest upside of this entire group is Brinson, who’s a complete toolshed that was billed as an extremely raw product. Turns out, he’s not as raw as a lot of amateur scouts thought. But again, Lewis Brinson is NOT Mike Trout.
It even extends beyond these comparisons. When Manny Machado is more than holding his own at the age of 19 in Double-A, some people ask if he’s still the top prospect everyone thought he was. And when he gets to the major leagues and is holding his own at the age of 20, he’s overlooked because he’s not putting up huge numbers right away. You know who comes up to the majors and are not immediate superstars? Everyone. Even Mike Trout, who hit .220/281/.390 with 5 HR and 4 SB in 123 AB in 2011. And Machado’s numbers, for those of you who were curious: .267/.281/438 with 4 HR and 2 SB in 131 AB. And as great of a prospect Machado is, even he’s not Mike Trout.
It may take a few years for it to really sink in how great of a season Mike Trout had in 2012 and how unlikely it is for us ever to see it again. His 10.3 bWAR is the highest of all time for a 20-year old, beating out A-Rod’s 1996 season (.358/.414/.631 with 36 HR, 123 RBI and 15 SB — those were different times, man). By the way, of the 10 seasons of 6.0+ bWAR among 20 year olds, 6 belong to Hall of Famers (Ott, F Robinson, Mantle, Cobb, Ted Williams, Kaline — talk about serious company), 3 are active players (A-Rod, Heyward, Trout) and the other is Vada Pinson. Yes, THAT Vada Pinson. This should be a lesson to us all about what we’re seeing and how we translate it into our expectations for other prospects and young MLB players.
But until then, regardless of whether we’re the ones asking the question or the ones being asked, Mike Trout is ruining prospects for us all. And damn is it fun to watch.