TEMPE, Ariz. – The autograph hounds aren't foaming quite as frightfully for Mike Trout(notes) as they are for Bryce Harper(notes), and the adjectives from prospectphiles are a smidgen less fawning, and even the praise from his teammates is tamped down comparatively. Harper is name brand, Trout store brand – almost the same product, only one with a fancier label and costlier price tag.
Outside of Los Angeles Angels camp, where the veterans are doing their best to bite their tongues about Trout, his profile isn't quite the same. And yet Trout is only a year older than Harper, dominated both levels of Class A last season and is doing his best to convince the Angels that summoning him later this year as a teenager wouldn't be nearly as silly as it sounds.
"I'd love to be here," Trout said.
He stopped himself.
"I'm not one of them guys who's going to be too cocky," Trout said. "I just go out there and play. Signing bonus, all that – I mean, you don't make your money until you get to the big leagues. That's what I want to do."
It's too easy to call Trout the anti-Harper because he doesn't relish attention the same way. He doesn't exactly cower from it, either. Trout is far from a wallflower in the clubhouse. As basketball conference tournaments wrapped up Sunday, Trout leaned over the shoulders of veterans watching on their iPads. Such commiseration, of course, led to a lesson Trout and the rest of the rookies now hold sacred: Do not mess with Jered Weaver(notes).
The Angels' clubhouse, full of pranks already thanks to manager Mike Scioscia, had its spring coup de grace early on: Weaver arranged for the scoreboard operator to flash Trout's cell phone number between innings Feb. 28.
He's got a new number these days.
"There's more relaxation in here," Angels right-hander Joel Pineiro(notes) said. "It's the younger generation, and it's looser because of them. As long as we're willing to accept them, that helps. You can't let things out of hand and turn into a playground, but it feels right."
The Angels are trying to transition rather than rebuild. Their trade for Vernon Wells(notes) this offseason drew criticism for not just taking on $81 million for the next four years but potentially blocking Trout. If Peter Bourjos(notes) turns his speed into basepath chaos and plus defense in center field, Trout forcing his way into the lineup could land Wells or the near-equally paid Torii Hunter(notes) as one of the most expensive designated hitters in baseball.
Among Trout, Mark Trumbo(notes) and Hank Conger(notes), though, there is reason for optimism. After starting the millennium with one of the game's most fertile player-development systems, the Angels have stagnated in recent years. Scouting director Eddie Bane was fired last year just after the system had started its turnaround, and with Trumbo a near-lock for the opening day roster, Conger trying to play himself on and Trout slated to start at Double-A, reinforcements are on the way.
"He's got the frame to be a dominant player," Wells said. "He's got the skill set and discipline of a guy that's been around a long time. It's something where, if you have that as a 19-year-old, it's an impressive combination."
How Trout dropped to pick No. 25 in the 2009 draft is a testament to luck and superior scouting. Trout lived in Millville, N.J., a medium-sized suburb, and had more tools than a Leatherman: true top-end speed, power potential and a nice, compact right-handed swing. His plate discipline was impressive, too, and had he lived in California or Texas, Trout almost assuredly would've gone higher. As is, he wasn't even the Angels' first pick. They took Randal Grichuk, now a middling prospect, with the 24th overall choice.
Almost immediately, scouts from 22 other teams wondered how they had missed. At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Trout was built like a machine, and he played like it, too – set at a fast speed and high level.
The Angels soon realized the $1.215 million they spent on Trout was their best investment in years. Trout could've been at East Carolina, playing baseball, studying to be a teacher, like his father, Jeff, and mother, Debbie. Instead, he's 1a. to Harper's No. 1.
"All these accolades and the things people are saying about me – it's good stuff," Trout said. "In the offseason, I take a look at it. I won't lie. My dad brings it up and tells me about it. It's great. But when I'm playing, I don't bother with it."
Sometime within the next week, the Angels will send Trout down to minor league camp. He'll have gotten 20-something at-bats and shown everybody in the front office what he needed to: that the makeup really does match the skills, that the good attitude isn't simply false hustle, that an impact player can just as easily be found for $1 million as it can $80 million.
They know better, after all, than to look at labels. Pick the right thing and the store brand might be even better.