For all of Mike Trout’s individual achievements — two-time American League most valuable player, AL rookie of the year, five Silver Sluggers, two All-Star Game MVPs — there is one noticeable void in the Angels center fielder’s trophy case: A Gold Glove award.
“That’s every outfielder’s dream,” Trout said. “It would be pretty cool. Everyone who plays outfield and infield wants to win a Gold Glove.”
This might be the year.
Trout almost single-handedly prevented Adrian Beltre from tying George Brett for 15th place on baseball’s all-time hit list this week by robbing the Texas Rangers star three times.
Trout raced to the wall and made a leaping grab of a deep drive and in to make a diving catch of a flare Monday night, and he made a shoe-string catch of another Beltre flare Wednesday night.
He also made a strong and accurate two-hop throw to the plate to nail the Rangers’ Robinson Chirinos, who was trying to score from second on a single, in the third inning Wednesday night.
“For me, he’s improved in every aspect, going to his left, to his right, going back and coming in,” Angels third-base coach Dino Ebel, who oversees the outfielders, said before Thursday night’s game against the Seattle Mariners.
“Coming into spring training, that was a goal of his, to improve his defense, and he took it to heart, like he does all the time when he hears that he can’t do this, and he can’t do that.”
Trout ranked fourth in the AL behind Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr., New York’s Aaron Hicks and Toronto’s Kevin Pillar in Fangraphs’ overall defensive rating entering Thursday, and he led the league with four defensive runs saved.
Only Bradley and Chicago’s Adam Engel rank ahead of Trout in the most recent defensive ratings of the Society of American Baseball Research, which accounts for 25% of a Gold Glove voting process that is still weighted heavily toward managers and coaches.
While Trout hasn’t made as many spectacular, home run-robbing catches this season as he has in past years, his overall play — first step, range, route efficiency, arm strength and accuracy — has improved.
The key to it all, Ebel said, is the first step, which Trout works on every day by taking balls off the fungo bat and during batting practice. In his seventh full big-league season, Trout’s knowledge of opposing hitters, positioning and feel for the game have improved.
“Because of that first step, he’s taking better routes to the ball,” Ebel said. “His goal is to catch everything that’s hit out there. If you have a good first step, you might have a chance to catch a ball that you didn’t think you could catch.”
Trout has all the physical tools to be a standout defender — great speed, athleticism, instincts, strong arm. But he seems to be playing with more of an edge, maybe even a chip on his shoulder, this season.
“If you watch him every day like we do, he just has that mentality that if they’re gonna take hits away from me, I’m gonna take hits away from them,” Ebel said. “As soon as the ball is hit, boom, he’s catching it.
“He’s always taken pride in his defense, and now he’s upped it a step to where he’s being mentioned among Gold Glove-caliber center fielders. That’s his goal.”
Bradley may be the Gold Glove favorite this season, but Trout’s candidacy should be boosted by the fact that the winners of the previous three AL center-field awards have either spent much of the season in the minor leagues (Minnesota’s Byron Buxton) or been injured (Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier).
Where does Angels manager Mike Scioscia rank Trout among AL center fielders?
“Gold Glove, Gold Glove, no doubt,” Scioscia said. “He’s playing a tremendous center field.”