What a catch: Trout's season one for the ages

What a catch: Trout's season one for the ages

ANAHEIM -- All the excitement and intrigue and buzz surrounding Mike Trout, as he captivated a nation with his youth and energy and talent, has faded now. Baseball has moved on -- at least temporarily -- because the postseason dominates October and Trout's Angels aren't participating.

Trout, too, has moved on, to his parents' house in Millville, N.J., where he will spend the next four months catching up with his family and rekindling his social life, all while wondering how he can possibly follow up on one of the greatest individual seasons in baseball history.

Speaking just before the end of the 2012 campaign, which the Angels finished with 89 wins -- four shy of this year's requirement for the American League's final playoff spot -- Trout was asked a simple, yet complicated question.

What do you take away from this season?

"Well," the 21-year-old center fielder started, "the biggest thing is, these games are big in September, early October, but the start of the year is probably the biggest thing we had this year. It put us in a hole."

Funny he would mention that, since, you know, the start of the season was the only thing Trout didn't have control over.

Through most of April, Trout was stuck in the Minors, trying to make up for a Spring Training that quickly got away from him because of a nasty virus and shoulder tendinitis. He finally came up on April 28, with the 6-14 Angels desperate for a spark, and ...

Well, you pretty much know the rest.

Trout went on to finish second in the AL in batting average (.326), first in steals (49) and runs (129), third in on-base percentage (.399) and third in slugging (.564). Only three other players -- guys named Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle -- have notched a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) higher than Trout's 10.7 at age 25 or younger. And no player -- any age, any tenure -- has ever combined at least 45 steals with 125 runs and 30 homers in one season.

Trout also robbed four home runs (only three others have done that since 2004) and saved 23 runs altogether (fifth in the Majors). He made the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine. He led the Angels to the third-best record in the AL since his callup, at 83-59. And he helped spawn perhaps the most heated Most Valuable Player Award debate in history, going toe-to-toe with Miguel Cabrera and his Triple Crown.

Next question: Did you surprise even yourself with your rookie season?

Trout, still a man of few words, laughs.

"Maybe a little bit," he said. "But I just go out there and have fun, try to do my thing every day, and whatever happens, happens."

Perhaps a legitimate surprise was his home run frequency, given that Trout only totaled 23 homers in 286 career Minor League games. Part of the reason for that, he said, was a more upright stance that gave him better plate coverage and power. Another factor, manager Mike Scioscia will tell you, is that Trout is still, well, growing.

"He was 17 in Angel Stadium, going six, seven rows back like a left-handed pull hitter -- at age 17," Scioscia recalled. "You were pretty sure that he was going to develop power at some time."

And that begs the question: Long term, is Trout a leadoff man or a No. 3 hitter?

His speed (he's the youngest player to steal 40-plus bases since Ty Cobb in 1907) and Albert Pujols' presence in the lineup point to the former.

However, Trout's power (his 18.63 at-bats per homer ranked 11th in the AL) supports the latter.

"Wherever Sosh will put me, that's where I'll hit," Trout said. "My job this year was to get on base and score some runs."

Asked what he would like to improve on, Trout pointed to defense, specifically his arm strength and his first step. If you want to nitpick Trout's 2012 season, here are two other points to consider ...

1. He faded a bit down the stretch, posting a .287/.383/.500 slash line since the start of August. Playing that deep into a season, with the frequency he did, was a new challenge for Trout.

"It's been a very long year for me," he said after playing every inning of each of the last 60 games. "This is probably the most games I've ever played."

2. His strikeout totals were a tad high. Only 21 AL players had a worse ratio than Trout's 4.6 plate appearances per strikeout this year (though his 9.54 plate appearances per walk was 16th-best in the Junior Circuit).

"I can cut them down a little bit," Trout said of the strikeouts, "but I like seeing a lot of pitches up there. I get a lot of hits with two strikes, work a lot of counts to two strikes. If the majority of your at-bats are with two strikes, you're going to strike out a little bit."

None of that, of course, even comes close to souring the extraordinary things Trout did this year.

AL Rookie of the Year? Without question.

Youngest MVP in baseball history? The Baseball Writers' Association of America won't reveal that for about another six weeks -- and Cabrera may have something to say about it.

"It's going to be a good race," said Cabrera, who finished with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs to notch the first Triple Crown since 1967. "He's a helluva player, a great player. He has a chance to be one of the best players in baseball."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. Jason Beck contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.