Trumbo making his mark on Cactus League

Trumbo making his mark on Cactus League

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Matt Palmer, the Angels' well-traveled right-handed pitcher, is worried about young teammate Mark Trumbo.

Palmer's concerns have nothing to do with Trumbo's ability to perform at the Major League level. It's all about the health and well-being of his pitching fraternity.

"There were times when we were at [Triple-A] Salt Lake when he hit balls right back at the pitcher and just barely missed him," Palmer said. "If he ever hits a guy with one of his shots, I'd hate to see it."

Trumbo's bullets are becoming the stuff of legend. Teammates from his Minor League days love to exchange stories about rockets they've seen fly off his bat, much like the two he launched on Monday against the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz.

The first carried over the Green Monster-sized scoreboard in left field. Hardened veterans watched in awe. The second crashed off the wall in center field well above the 420 sign for a double. If it wasn't still rising, it wasn't losing any elevation.

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"Those two might have been close to 1,000 feet," outfielder and lockermate Chris Pettit said. "The first one had to be about 500 feet, and the second one -- who knows how far that one would have traveled if it hadn't hit the scoreboard."

In a corner of the home clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Tuesday morning, center fielder Peter Bourjos and reliever Michael Kohn were trading Trumbo tales.

"I remember the one he hit over the ice-cream truck in Salt Lake, completely out of the ballpark," Kohn said. "Ridiculous. No idea how far that one went."

"In Portland one night," Bourjos countered, "he hit a line drive that the shortstop leaped for. They have a high wall in left field there with a scoreboard on top of it. That ball kept rising and hit off the top of the scoreboard. I've never seen anything like it.

"It's his leverage and the backspin he puts on the ball. I've seen him come close to drilling a few pitchers. Scary."

Soft-spoken and analytical, Trumbo takes these things in stride. He's more focused on fundamental elements -- pitch recognition, controlling his aggression, improving his glove and foot work at first base -- to dwell on how far balls travel off his bat or how much fear his line drives create for pitchers.

"I kind of liked the home run a little better [Monday] because it was an 0-2 fastball that [Cubs reliever James Russell] was trying to elevate," Trumbo said. "It was just kind of a reaction, and it was one of the better ones I've hit.

"The other one was another two-strike pitch, 3-2. I stayed through it pretty well. I got some help with the wind."

Trumbo grinned. Neither of those shots needed any assistance from the elements to carry long distances in a hurry.

A pair of singles left Trumbo with a perfect day at Mesa, hiking his Cactus League average to .375. With three doubles and three homers, he has a slugging percentage of .875 and a lofty OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.275.

He's keeping it all in perspective while he keeps first base warm for Kendry Morales, who may or may not be ready to return to his position by Opening Day in Kansas City as he comes back from surgery on his lower left leg.

Trumbo, who has some limited Minor League experience in the outfield, expects to start taking fly balls in camp in an attempt to increase his versatility.

Following his monster 2010 season at Salt Lake (.301, 36 homers, 122 RBIs), Trumbo struggled in a brief September exposure to the Majors, going 1-for-15 with eight strikeouts.

But he pounded high-level pitching in the Venezuela Winter League and came to camp determined to show he's Major League ready.

"More than anything, I'm seeing the ball better," Trumbo said. "When I get started a little sooner in the box with my load, I'm able to spit on those nasty breaking balls."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia calls Trumbo "one of those high-end guys trying to figure everything out."

His background as a dominant pitcher with premium gas at Villa Park High School, 10 minutes from Angel Stadium, enables him to think along with opposing pitchers, anticipating what they might deliver in a given situation.

Taken with an 18th-round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Trumbo chose the Angels over a University of Southern California scholarship and began the long process of becoming a hitter after a physical examination showed some right shoulder tendinitis.

"I do miss [pitching] at times," Trumbo said. "If you talk to most hitters, they think fastball first and adjust. I think about what I'd try to do if I was on the mound. It's what I've always done. I guess a lot -- and it's great if you're right."

Palmer has watched Trumbo's evolution as a hitter with amazement.

"He's come a long way," Palmer said. "He's got some of the craziest pop I've ever seen. He's kind of like Mark McGwire in a sense. They were both drafted as pitchers ... and look what happened."

For the sake of his pitching brotherhood, Palmer knows what he doesn't want to see happen.

"I try to think about what I'd do if I was facing Mark," Palmer said. "He's the kind of guy who makes you think, that's for sure."

Fear of failure is one thing. Fear for safety is another.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.