Trout already best player in Major Leagues
Harper has hype, but Angels outfielder is outstanding now with second-to-none skills
The best player in the American League, arguably the best in all the Major Leagues, will turn 21 on Tuesday.
Not the best prospect. Not the guy who, one day, might be the best. One can make a case for Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh, but by nearly any measure, the best player this year is a 20-year-old outfielder who will earn less this season than teammate Vernon Wells makes in a week.
So while Bryce Harper may be the most entertaining player and could one day be an MVP winner or even a Hall of Famer, Mike Trout is already there. He's the leading candidate for Most Valuable Player honors in the AL.
Colleague Anthony Castrovince makes the counterpoint that he prefers Harper to Trout. It's fun to dream on a player, to think about what he could become. It's even more fun to see a player who's already all the things you dream about. The only downside to Trout is that it's difficult to envision how he can get better.
What stands out most about the Angels outfielder isn't any one thing or two things, like Harper's power and arm. Rather, it's his broad base of skills. Trout does just about everything you can ask a baseball player to do, displaying a combination of abilities that's very nearly unique.
Eric Davis was a physical freak like Trout and had the combination of power and speed, but Davis didn't hit for average while he still had his speed. Both Barry and Bobby Bonds at various points displayed similar talents. Cesar Cedeno had a couple of years in the early 1970s, but he didn't have the build or quite the power of Trout. Rickey Henderson, mid-career, comes to mind. Henderson walked more, but the 1990-ish vintage Henderson might be the closest parallel.
And, again, that's not a comparison to what Trout might become. We're talking about what he already is.
"When people start comparing you to people, you definitely start looking him up and see what they're all about," Trout said recently. "I definitely remember all the stolen bases [Henderson] had that one year that he hit for power. You really don't see a lot of people hitting home runs and stealing bases, as well. To be in that group with him is awesome."
That's about it, though, unless you want to get into some real baseball heresy by invoking names like Mantle and Mays. As good as Trout is right now, that's dangerous ground. It's one thing to do it for a year or a few years, like Cedeno or Davis, and quite another to do it for 15 or 20. Trout has started to do it, though, and that's one of the main things that differentiates him from Harper.
Additionally, even if Harper grows into the player we all hope he will, he wouldn't be quite so unprecedented. Left-handed-hitting outfielders with top-flight power and excellent speed ... we've seen those before. The difference between Harper's upside and the players who have come before him is one of degree. The difference between Trout and his predecessors is rare.
Trout's combination of elite speed, plus power, plus-plus pure hitting ability and exceptional defense makes him a one-of-a-kind player in a way that Harper may not be. But more important, Trout is already there.
That's the biggest difference. As valuable as scouting reports and Minor League numbers are, they're still less fail-safe than actual big league performance. Trout, bidding to become the third player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season, has it. Harper does too, but not at the same level.
"He's on his way to a remarkable career," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said recently. "He's just getting started, and look what he's doing. He's just an unbelievable baseball player."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.