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How Mike Trout and other veterans are helping Angels prospects grow for the future

Angels' Jo Adell rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 17.
Angels’ Jo Adell reacts after hitting a grand slam in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 17.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Jo Adell walked out of the batting cage and into the classroom Tuesday afternoon.

Just as the Angels rookie outfielder finished up a pregame hitting session, Mike Trout showed up to dispense some subtle advice to his young teammate.

For the better part of 10 minutes, Trout (now 30 with three most valuable player awards) offered Adell (a 22-year-old with three career home runs entering the night) compliments and critique.

Trout was impressed by the former first-round pick’s improved discipline at the plate, an approach that had clearly improved since a poor debut season a year prior. But, he keyed in on some small changes that he thought might benefit Adell too.

“He was like, ‘I like to let you play your game, and do you. I think it’s important you’re true to yourself and do you. But every once in a while, when I see something, I’m going to point it out,’” Adell recalled later, smiling as he described a moment of mentorship that was brief but important — an interaction that, by the end of the night, was already paying dividends on the field.

Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani gave up one run over eight innings and hit his 40th home run of the season in a 3-1 win over the Detroit Tigers.

One of Trout’s biggest pieces of advice to Adell had been “to stay on the fastball” and remain aggressive even against some of the hardest throwers in the league.

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In the ninth inning of a tied game hours later against the Detroit Tigers, Adell listened, hammering an elevated 97-mph sinker from Gregory Soto over the inner half of the plate for his first career grand slam, lifting the Angels to an 8-2 win.

“When I hit it, I turned and Trout was at the stairwell in the dugout,” Adell said. “I looked over and just went crazy. … Having that mindset throughout the game today helped me just let loose.”

It was the kind of sequence Angels manager Joe Maddon has been witnessing all season — optimistic glimpses of growth he believes the team can build upon, a reinforcing foundation that he views as necessary to building a brighter future.

“I love the culture this group is building right now,” Maddon said. “The veterans have a great influence on these young guys: How do you act? How do you handle a moment? How do you handle a situation? It’s been fabulous to watch and listen to.”

The Angels’ 2021 season, of course, will largely be remembered for what that veteran core couldn’t do — either because of injury, ineffectiveness or a combination of both.

Angels outfielder Mike Trout, center, talks with shortstop Jose Iglesias in the dugout
Angels outfielder Mike Trout, center, talks with shortstop José Iglesias in the dugout before a game against the Dodgers on Aug. 7.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

Trout has been out since mid-May with a calf injury, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the lineup that has become increasingly difficult to fill. Veterans Anthony Rendon, Dexter Fowler and Justin Upton have been plagued by injuries as well.

On the pitching side, Dylan Bundy and José Quintana both lost their spots in the starting rotation. Alex Cobb has been on the injured list twice. And, outside of closer Raisel Iglesias, the Angels’ experienced bullpen has ranged from unspectacular to totally inconsistent.

“There’s a lot of stuff that didn’t roll right for us to this point,” Maddon acknowledged Tuesday, with his team slipping ever further out of the American League wild-card race.

But then, Maddon tried to put a positive spin on things, attributing the emergence of several young players — such as Adell and Brandon Marsh in the outfield and pitchers Patrick Sandoval, José Suarez, Reid Detmers and others on the mound — to influence they’ve received from the rest of the group.

“It’s not obvious,” Maddon said. “But these are the things I’m most pleased with.”

Only time will tell whether such talk is just lip service for a losing team or actually leaving a lasting impact on a club in transition. But, even before Tuesday, there has been no shortage of examples to back up the atmosphere Maddon has described.

Detroit broadcaster Jack Morris was suspended indefinitely Wednesday a day after making a racist comment regarding Angels star Shohei Ohtani.

Trout and Fowler, after all, are accompanying the Angels on their current trip even while continuing to rehab their injuries. Quintana and Junior Guerra, one of the veteran relievers who has struggled this season, are almost always tailed on the field by younger pitchers who, in many cases, have replaced their role on the roster.

When Marsh, the Angels’ top position player prospect, was called up for his debut last month, he called it “a blessing” to pick the brains of teammates in the clubhouse and video room. Detmers, the club’s top pitching prospect, described a similar excitement ahead of his major league debut a few weeks later.

They are all names the Angels will be counting on in the near future. Marsh and Adell will both compete for an open outfield spot next season. Sandoval, Detmers, Suarez and Jaime Barria will be candidates for the rotation. Austin Warren and José Quijada could be factors in the bullpen.

“Guys that have had opportunity have really taken advantage of it,” Maddon said. “For now, and for next year.”

Which is why, even as they’re running out of time to make a playoff push this season, the Angels see a way to continue building toward something bigger too. On Tuesday, Trout and Adell provided a reminder of the strides that can still be made.

“Just getting to sit down and talk for 10 minutes about what I’m thinking and what I want to do and how we’re going to get there,” Adell said, “that’s about as good as it gets.”


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