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Mike Trout And Sustainability

The Nationals made waves when they called up Bryce Harper in late-April, so much so that Mike Trout returned the big leagues on the same day and was barely noticed. The 20-year-old Trout has actually out-produced his 19-year-old top prospect counterpart so far, and in fact he's producing like a top-five fantasy outfielder. He's hit .315/.382/.539 in 102 plate appearances this year, clubbing four homers and stealing six bases in his 23 games. There is no question he has the talent to play like this, but the question becomes how long can he keep it up at his age?

Over the last 50 years, only 23 players have qualified for the batting title as a 20-year-old. Alex Rodriguez circa 1996 was by far the most productive of the group, hitting .358/.414/.631 with 54 doubles, 36 homers, and 15 steals. Only three others managed to hit .300 (Ken Griffey Jr., Starlin Castro, and Claudell Washington) and only two others hit more than 20 homers (Griffey and Tony Conigliaro), though eleven of them stole at least 15 bases and five stole more than 20. That isn't to say Trout can't put up numbers like that -- what those guys did has zero impact on him going forward -- it just goes to show how rare it is for a player this young to be that productive.

First of all, I have little doubt that Trout will steal a boatload of bases this season. He stole 56 bases in 2010 and another 54 between the Majors and minors last season, so that's very clearly a huge part of his game. If Trout plays every day the rest of the season, he could steal 30+ bases very easily. Forty might be pushing since it's already late-May, but I wouldn't put it past him. The kid is going to steal a ton of bases for your fantasy team, that's all but certain. At the plate, maintaining a high average might be a little more difficult.

Trout's batting average is propped up by a .381 BABIP at the moment. That's obviously extremely high but it's incorrect to simply say his performance will suffer going forward because his BABIP will come back down to Earth. Trout is exactly the kind of player that will consistently post higher than usual BABIPs, meaning a speed guy who doesn't hit a ton of true fly balls. Guys like Austin Jackson (career .371 BABIP), Carlos Gonzalez (.346), and Emilio Bonifacio (.340) have similar offensive profiles and sky-high BABIPs. Now Trout's BABIP is sure to come down a bit, as .381 is a bit nutty, but he's capable of maintaining a .340+ pace and that will hopefully keep his batting average right around .300 mark.

Over-the-fence power is a different story. Trout did hit 16 homers between the Majors and minors last season but he is stuck in a division with not only some really good pitching, but also some big ballparks. His home park in Anaheim has a home run park factor of 93 for right-handed batters according to StatCorner, meaning it suppresses homer output by righties to roughly 93% of the league average. Safeco Field in Seattle is notoriously unfriendly to right-handers (83 HR factor) and the Coliseum in Oakland is even worse (80 HR factor). The Ballpark in Arlington is his one divisional reprieve (114 HR factor). The Angels will play 76 of their 117 remaining games (65.0%) at home, in Seattle, or in Oakland, so that's going to hurt Trout's power. Double-digit dingers seems inevitable, but I would be skeptical about his ability to threaten 18-20.

One non-statistical concern I have about Trout is his durability. He's not injury prone or anything like that, but reports indicated that he looked noticably worn down late last year and in the Arizona Fall League. Remember, he's still a 20-year-old kid who only has two full seasons under his belt. The 162-game grind is tough, especially for a leadoff hitter and base stealer who takes a pounding sliding into second and diving back to first on pickoff throws. This has nothing to do with Trout's skills and talent, but anecdotally there is a slight concern about his ability to maintain a high-level of performance right through the end of the fantasy season.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system projects a .272/.342/.427 batting line with 11 homers and 26 steals out of Trout for the rest of the season, which is actually a bit below my expectations. That's a valuable player but probably not a top 20 fantasy outfielder. Trout is clearly one of the most exciting and best all-around prospects to break into the big leagues in quite some time, but as Matt Moore and Brett Lawrie owners are finding out, that doesn't guarantee instant and sustainable success right out of the chute.



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