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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Trout already setting the bar at young age

Standing out among baseball's elite, outfielder has talent to get even better

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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Mike Trout is the best baseball player on earth. In the end, it's not one bit more complicated than that.

There are other players in the conversation. Andrew McCutchen absolutely is one of them. Miguel Cabrera is on the short list as well. Carlos Gomez, Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson and Evan Longoria are incredibly talented.

All of them do things that take your breath away, that make you say, "Let me see that one again." Just when you think you've seen them make the ultimate play, they do something else. Isn't greatness a wonderful thing?

As terrific as those guys are, they're simply not capable of doing all the things Trout can do. He's so good that if you broke him down by skill set, if you just looked at one part of his talent -- power, speed, defense, you name it -- you'd have a star.

Here's the other part of the deal. Trout is only 22 years old and will continue to get better. That's maybe the most amazing part. His career is just getting going. He has had such a dazzling two seasons, it's sometimes hard to remember he's about to begin just his second full season in the big leagues.

He has played 336 games, with fewer than 1,500 plate appearances. So as pitchers continue to work on things to use against him, Trout will continue to adjust to them and refine his game.

And this might be the season the Angels had in mind when they first envisioned having Trout in a lineup with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Pujols is healthy again. He's confident, too, and driven to reestablish himself as the player every other is measured against. He hasn't been that Pujols for a couple of seasons.

Hamilton may do the same thing. He has added 30 pounds and looks more like the player who at times made the game look easy during five seasons with the Rangers.

No lineup in recent memory has had a trio this good, three players capable of dominating games and carrying a team right into October. If that happens, plenty of fans who have caught only glimpses of Trout are going to realize how good he is.

To hear people talk about him is one thing. To examine the numbers is another thing. None of it comes close to the pleasure of watching him night in and night out.

One game, he's sprinting toward the gap to bring a ball sailing over the fence back. Another game, he's lining a ball and flying around the bases for a triple. Or he's stealing a base or hitting a home run or getting on base in front of the big boys.

In short, Trout is the whole package. Last season, he got on base 309 times, tops in the Major Leagues. He was in the top three in the American League in runs, triples, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging.

He was on the leaderboard in other places -- seventh in triples, 14th in home runs, eighth in stolen bases. He's also an above-average defender, one capable of making breathtaking plays.

There's also the way Trout goes about it. He plays with such grace and control -- it's easy for him. There's something else about him that's special. That's his personality, his approachable nature.

He's seems genuinely thankful for everything that has happened to him. There's a humility about Trout, an everyman quality, and he appears to understand and accept that kids are watching him and emulating him.

If he's going to be the best player in the game, he's going to do things right. That is, he's going to show up early, take care of his business and then play every game as if it might be his last.

Pujols is a great role model for someone like that. He's a workaholic, someone who shows up early and spends hours in the cage and the weight room. He takes his craft seriously.

When Trout sees someone beginning his 14th season with the intensity of a rookie just called up from Double-A, there has to be some benefit, some reassurance he's doing things right.

The Angels appear to be in a good place. General manager Jerry Dipoto has upgraded the rotation and back of the bullpen. If Pujols and Hamilton can stay on the field, this could be a great baseball summer for the Angels.

Some of the people who know Trout best say that he burns to win, that he's driven to play October baseball. Maybe this will be the season. Maybe he'll make October his personal showcase. First, though, there's the regular season, which means more chances for Trout to amaze and thrill and entertain us.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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