This story appears in the March 27, 2017 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Subscribe to the magazine by clicking here.
Half a decade into the Mike Trout era, this much is clear: He can do most anything he puts his mind to. At 25, the Angels' centerfielder has won two American League MVP awards, in 2014 and '16, and could easily own five. (He has three second-place finishes.) Last fall, FanGraphs writer August Fagerstrom determined that Trout just completed the ninth-best five-year stretch, by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), of any position player in history. Of course, the eight above him were credited for their peak years, while Trout theoretically has yet to reach his physical prime.
One thing in which Trout is not interested is discussing his own burgeoning legacy. He's notoriously laconic on the subject. Luckily, those who know him are not. Cooperstown is still perhaps 20 years away, but why wait to appreciate his greatness? SI asked coaches, teammates and other insiders for their perspectives on a legend whose best days are not locked in history but are still in front of him—and of us.
The Millville Meteor
Roy Hallenbeck, Millville (N.J.) Senior High Baseball Coach: He was a Little League legend, but when he got to us, he was small. The only tool that jumped out was speed. His first year, we had an opening in the infield and decided to give him a look. His heart was going so fast. We run simple four-corner fungo drills, and he's throwing the ball against the backstop. I said to the coaches, "This kid may not be emotionally ready for this." We were going to send him to the freshman group in a day or two if he didn't turn it around. Yeah, Mike Trout was two days from not making the team his freshman year.
Greg Morhardt, Angels Scout, '07–14: In high school Mike pulled most balls, because he could. You don't have to use the opposite field in high school if you're physically dominating and guys aren't throwing hard. Once during a showcase I said, "Hey, Mike, could you hit one down to the rightfield corner?" First one, didn't hit it great. Second one, stroked it right down the line on a rope, 10 feet fair. "O.K., that's good. Just go back to where you were." You wanted to know Mike could do it—but you don't want anybody else to know.
Kenny Williams, Millville Assistant Coach: Mike had verbally committed to East Carolina the summer before his senior year. One night Billy Godwin, the coach there, was here when we were playing our local rival. There are 30 scouts in the stands. Mike hits a moonshot, and everyone thinks it's going out. The centerfielder runs back, then realizes it's going to drop in front of him. Mike's flying. He was 3.8, 3.9 seconds home to first from the right side, which is ridiculous. He crosses the plate standing up before the ball gets back to the infield. Thirty scouts' stopwatches drop. Thirty cellphones pop up. Godwin comes walking along the backstop, kicking the ground, and says, "He's the best bleeping high school player I've ever seen. There's no way he's coming to East Carolina."
Becoming An Angel
Morhardt: We had two straight first-round picks that year, and at 24 we take a righthanded high school outfielder: Randal Grichuk, out of Texas. I'm stunned. I text someone in our draft room: "What's going on? Mayday, mayday!" Four minutes go by. I get a text: We're taking Trout at 25.
Scott Servais, Rangers Director Of Player Development, 2006–11: I remember in our draft room the question was, "Why would the Angels take two high school outfielders back-to-back?" Other clubs will say they were on him, but they always say that after the fact.
Brian Cashman, Yankees General Manager: This is real: He was No. 2 on our draft board. Stephen Strasburg was No. 1. We were picking toward the back, No. 29, but we didn't think anybody was on him. He came off the board before us, and that's that.
Jeff Mathis, Diamondbacks Catcher; Angels Catcher, 2005–11: I was at Angel Stadium right after they drafted him. They brought him in to see the stadium and take BP. He didn't have a bat, so I gave him mine. He steps into the cage, and he starts hitting these deep bombs to right center, one after the other. My bat never sounded like that. He was 17 years old.
An Earth-Shaking Debut
Dino Ebel, Angels Bench Coach: His rookie year [in 2012], we're sitting on the plane together. I said, "You know that guy Jeter over there with the Yankees? That's you."
Jon Daniels, Rangers President Of Baseball Operations: The thing that always stood out is he has a body just entirely made for baseball. He's built like nobody else. There were questions about his arm and his defense early on, and as great as he was on Day One, he's made himself a better player.
Albert Pujols, Angels First Baseman: The thing that impresses me most, for a big guy like he is, is how well he runs. When he goes around the bases, it's like a freaking linebacker running.
Ebel: I coached third [when Trout broke in], and when he was coming around, it was like a train. I made sure I got out of his way. I'm 165 pounds; he's gonna knock my block off. His steps make a different sound. Just heavy, hard, like something powerful's coming at you.
Rick Smith, Angels Trainer: He probably goes anywhere from 235 to 240 pounds. His speed, quickness, explosiveness—from zero to 60—are just amazing to me. And his spatial awareness: when to get to the fence, when to time the jump to catch a ball that's three feet over the fence. Where does it come from? It comes from God.
Jeff Fletcher, Angels Beat Writer: Early in 2014 he was striking out a lot. Once in Toronto, in May, he struck out four times. I was in the clubhouse, waiting to tactfully ask him why he stunk so much, basically. Which is not the sort of thing he's used to hearing. He just looked at me and was like, "C'mon, Fletch, I know you want to ask me about strikeouts. Just get over here. Let's do it." He won MVP that year, by the way.
Ebel: In [June] 2014 he hit a game-tying grand slam off Chris Sale in the eighth. I asked him, "What were you thinking when you walked up to the plate?" He said, "I hit the home run on deck." In the on-deck circle he was visualizing what he was going to do. Then he did it.
C.J. Cron, Angels First Baseman: The play that sticks out is when he robbed the Mariners' Jesus Montero, at home in September 2015. I've seen people rob homers before, but the way he climbed the wall, hung up there and just snagged it, it was something I've never seen before.
Kole Calhoun, Angels Rightfielder: Half his body was literally over the fence. He made it look easy. I said to him, "Greatest catch I've ever seen." He just kinda shook it off and kept playing.
Garrett Richards, Angels Starting Pitcher: It's crazy: He's pretty decent at everything he does. He figures things out really quick. Video games. Cribbage. When Torii Hunter was here, we played a lot of dominoes, and he got good. He'll shoot in the mid-70s in golf, no problem, and we'll really only play during spring training, and sometimes on off days during the season.
Gary Disarcina, Angels Coach, 2013–16: Once [Angels coach] Paul Sorrento and I were beating him and [Angels pitcher] Jered Weaver on the last hole, and Mike was about 180 yards off the fairway in the woods. Paul had shot 15 feet from the pin. We're whooping it up. Trout hit a five-iron off the tree trunks, landed 25–30 feet from the pole. Me and Paul were dancing. Paul misses his putt. Mikey drained a 25-footer to win. Ran around celebrating like a little kid.
Calhoun: One time I had a teammate, C.J. Wilson, take a picture of Trout parking. His parking job was crooked—didn't care, tried to get to the clubhouse quick. C.J. goes, "Here's the only thing that Trout's not the best at."
Mike Butcher, Angels Pitching Coach, 2007–15: Mike loves video games, and he used to play my son in an online game called Clash of Clans. Mike was winning, and my son asked him why he had so many weapons and tools. Mike said, "You've got to spend some money if you want to play with the big boys. Use your dad's account." The next day I get a receipt that shows $1,500 in charges. Fifteen hundred dollars! I thought somebody hacked my account. I go to my son, "What is this all about?" And he says, "Mike Trout said I needed these." I see Mike later that day, and he's just laughing. He's really this great big kid who's always having fun. He hasn't changed a bit.
Calhoun: Besides his unbelievable ability, he's the luckiest human I've ever met. We have this charity raffle that all the MLB guys participate in for a scholarship foundation. A few years ago the grand prize was a Rolex. It's probably thousands of tickets sold leaguewide. Guess whose ticket wins? A Rolex. He's lucky, man.
The Legend Continues
Kris Bryant, Cubs Third Baseman, 2016 NL MVP: If you had no clue about baseball and were just talking to him, you'd be like, This guy is a cool guy. Just a normal human being who happens to be able to do amazing things on the field.
Tim Mead, Angels V.P. Of Communications: There was a family in New Jersey that had a fire in their house at Christmastime in 2015. Lost their tree, presents, everything. Mike heard about it. On his own he picked up gifts for them—they were strangers—and dropped by the house. He low-keyed all of it. If the family had not said anything to anybody about it, it would have gone unnoticed. That's Mike.
Richards: This is going to be our eighth year living together during the season, going back to A ball. Being able to watch him this whole time, I feel like he doesn't get enough credit, because he's on the West Coast. They don't see what he does on a nightly basis.
Cron: He signs autographs for kids every day, probably hundreds of them. Always. Before the game, after the game, wherever the kids are gathered. You just don't see superstars doing that.
Richards: He doesn't like the spotlight off the field. He likes to sit in a deer stand. He likes to hang out with friends. I got married this off-season, and he's engaged. The four of us all live together. The girls are best friends. Mike's impatient when it comes to cooking. He wants stuff to be done fast. Barbecuing, he turns everything up to high heat and watches it until it's done. You can't do that.
Daniels: He's the best in the game—that any of us have ever seen, really. I look forward to when he's a free agent and signs with an East Coast team.
Jim Leyland, MLB Manager, 1986–2013: I'm not a guy who likes to compare one player to another. I'm not going to compare Mike to anybody else. But I will say this: People will try to compare other players to Mike Trout for a long time.
Special reporting by Stephanie Apstein, Albert Chen, Jack Dickey, and Tom Verducci.