Kole Calhoun remembers a moment not long ago when Angels teammate Mike Trout came up to him to brag.
It is not an uncommon occurrence. Trout, a fiery competitor, has a quick trigger finger when it comes to flaunting his many talents.
On that particular evening, Trout boasted about a throw he made at Dodger Stadium. It was clocked at 93 mph, maybe the hardest Trout had ever seen a ball leave his right hand.
A few years later, in the Angels’ 5-4 win over the Dodgers on Tuesday night, Trout outdid himself.
Corey Seager lined a base hit up the middle and over the glove of a leaping Andrelton Simmons in the second inning of a game the Angels led 1-0. Max Muncy took off from second base on contact, trying to score the tying run.
Trout didn’t allow him the pleasure. He charged the ball, gloved it and fired a missile to catcher Dustin Garneau all in one fluid motion. Garneau received the throw just as Muncy slid feet-first into home. Muncy was tagged before his cleats crossed the plate.
After the play was upheld and Angels pitcher Felix Pena escaped the inning unscathed, Trout caught a glimpse of a replay. Emblazoned across the images of his throw was “98.6 mph.” He went to Calhoun to share the news.
“It’s definitely my hardest,” Trout said after the game, fighting back a grin.
“That’s 5 more mph,” Calhoun marveled. “He’s an unbelievable defender. We’ve all watched him throughout the years get better and better.”
Earlier this decade, when he was on the cusp of becoming a perennial candidate for the league’s most valuable player award and a three-time Gold Glove finalist in center field, Trout was often removed from games for defensive purposes. In fact, the day Trout made one of the best home-run-robbing catches this decade, racing into the right-center-field gap at Camden Yards in Baltimore and leaping high above the wall to rob J.J. Hardy in 2012, he was replaced by outfielder Peter Bourjos.
The one knock on Trout’s elite skillset was always his arm strength. The New Jersey native rarely, if ever, had the chance to work on throwing year-round during his childhood. When he entered the Angels organization at 17 years old, his mechanics were still raw.
Trout ironed out the flaws as he matured. He adopted a long-toss routine with Calhoun, in his own right a fleet-footed and strong-armed defender who threw a strike from right field to catch Cody Bellinger at the plate for the final out of Tuesday’s game. Trout’s arm strength improved, and with it his accuracy in the field.
Trout seemed to reach an apex last year when he established himself among the leading candidates for a Gold Glove, the one award he has yet to win. He had eight defensive runs saved and ranked fifth in Fangraphs’ overall defensive rating among all center fielders.
Trout entered Tuesday with one defensive run saved and ranked seventh in Fangraphs’ rating. In the Society for Baseball Research’s most recent defensive index, Trout placed sixth. He was well ahead of Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr., the center fielder who won the Gold Glove over Trout.
“Trouty has worked extremely hard [since] he first came up,” said Dodgers third-base coach Dino Ebel, previously a member of the Angels coaching staff for 14 years. “Everybody said he was below average to maybe average, and he worked extremely hard to prove everyone wrong. He’s got a plus arm now.”
It showed Tuesday, when Trout’s 261-foot dart came in cleanly for the third-hardest-thrown outfield assist of the year, according to MLB.com’s Statcast system.
Just more bragging rights.
“I’m going to let some of my buddies know,” Trout said. “[Former Angel] Garrett Richards, he’s going to know about it. You know, [late teammate Tyler] Skaggs would’ve given me a hard time about it, too. Just going to have fun with it.”