Aaron Cox, the 24-year-old brother-in-law of Angels star Mike Trout and until recently a pitching prospect in the team’s minor league system, died Wednesday, the Angels announced. A cause of death was not given.
Trout, who is on the disabled list because of a wrist injury, left the club this week for what the team said was a “personal family matter.” He is eligible to be activated Thursday, but manager Mike Scioscia said before Wednesday night’s game in San Diego that he does not know when Trout will return.
Scioscia declined to answer any further questions about Trout or Cox, a right-hander who was selected in the 19th round of the 2015 draft and pitched three seasons in the Angels organization.
Asked whether he knew Cox, the manager replied, “I’m not going to address that. It’s private for Mike.”
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons said he felt for Trout and his extended family.
“Any time anybody goes through a loss, it’s hard, so you understand for him,” Simmons said. “It’s somebody he’s pretty close to, and he was pretty young, too. I don’t know what exactly happened to him, but I know it’s just a shame. I wish Trout and his family all the strength in the world and I’m just really sorry for their loss.”
Earlier in the day, the Angels released a statement that read: “The Angels are saddened to hear of the passing of Aaron Cox, a member of the Angels family since 2015. We are deeply heartbroken and shocked by this tragic loss. Our heartfelt prayers and condolences to his family and friends. Aaron will always have a special place in the hearts of those within the organization.”
Trout, a two-time American League most valuable player, and his wife, Jessica Tara Cox, who were married in December, released a statement about Cox’s passing. Aaron was Jessica’s younger brother.
“Early this morning our families lost a phenomenal human being,” the statement read. “Aaron Cox was a tremendous son, brother and brother-in-law. He had a deep love for his family and a passionate dedication and commitment to his friends. As our families grieve together, we will also celebrate the memories, the laughter and love we each shared with Aaron in the short time we had him.
“He will forever be at the forefront in the hearts and minds of the Cox and Trout families. We will rely on the love and strength of God first and foremost during this difficult and challenging time, as well as our dear family and friends. We thank you for your thoughts and prayers, and our Lord and Savior for His precious gift of Aaron Joseph.”
Shock and sadness filled social media posts by dozens of Cox’s friends and former teammates.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t make time for you when you came to jersey and asked to catch up,” one friend wrote on Facebook.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler declined to discuss the details surrounding Cox’s death.
“Right now is not a time for questions about how — it’s more important to talk about his impact,” Eppler said. “He had a special gift that allowed him to connect with so many teammates, coaches and people on our staff. It’s tragic he’s no longer with us. He’ll live on in the minds of countless people in the organization.”
Right fielder Kole Calhoun, one of Trout’s closest friends on the team, declined to discuss the situation. Rookie reliever Justin Anderson, who spent time with Cox in minor league camp, said he would not talk about his relationship with Cox out of respect for Trout.
“It’s very tough for Mike, and it’s also tough for the rest of the guys in the Angels organization,” Anderson said. “But for now, that’s where I’m leaving it.”
To Simmons, Cox’s passing was a sobering reminder of how life — and death — can intrude on a baseball season and challenge players to fight through the adversity.
“Yeah, sometimes fans don’t know what we deal with,” Simmons said. “We go through some stuff that people don’t know, and sometimes it affects our play, sometimes it doesn’t, but real life happens to us too. We deal with family issues, friend issues, health stuff.
“And it’s tough sometimes. Sometimes when a life, for example, gets lost, we’ve gotta deal with that and grieve and manage to continue being professionals or show up and pretend like nothing happened. It’s a part of the job, I guess, but it’s tough.”
Like Trout, Cox starred at Millville (N.J.) High, helping the Thunderbolts win the 2011 South Jersey Group IV championship as a junior in 2011 and was 6-0 with a 0.86 earned-run average and struck out 71 batters in 48 2/3 innings as a senior in 2012.
Millville coach Roy Hallenbeck wanted to retire Trout’s No. 1 high school jersey, but Trout, a 2009 graduate of the school, convinced the coach to issue the uniform number to a senior team captain. Cox was the first player since Trout to wear the No. 1 jersey, in 2012.
Cox played three seasons for Division II Gannon University in Pennsylvania before the Angels drafted him. He was 7-3 with a 3.64 ERA in 68 appearances over three seasons for rookie-league Orem and Class-A Burlington and Inland Empire.
But Cox did not pitch in 2017. He suffered an orbital fracture when he was hit in the eye by a line drive in spring training and was suspended for 50 games in late July 2017 after testing positive for the banned stimulant methylphenidate, more commonly known as Ritalin.
The drug is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Players who test positive without applying for a therapeutic use exemption are subject to a suspension.
Cox returned this spring and spent the first two months of the season at Inland Empire, compiling a 4.11 ERA in 11 relief appearances. But he had not pitched since a May 29 appearance at Lancaster and was put on the voluntarily retired list Aug. 6.
There was no mention of retirement on Cox’s Twitter feed. In his last two tweets, Cox congratulated his parents on their 30th wedding anniversary Aug. 5 and on Friday posted an inspirational quote from Rachel Marie Martin, an author and single mother of seven:
“Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living.”
Heilbrunn is a San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer. Times staff writer Nathan Fenno contributed to this article.