Angels’ Mark Trumbo is trying to prove doubters wrong — again


MINNEAPOLIS — If you want to get Mark Trumbo to do something really well, just tell the Angels slugger he can’t do it.

As he rose through the minor leagues, Trumbo was fueled by criticism that his swing was too long, his uppercut wouldn’t translate to the big leagues, and he was a poor breaking-ball hitter and defender.

Trumbo silenced those critics last season, hitting .254 with a team-leading 29 home runs and 87 runs batted in, crushing many hanging sliders, playing solid defense at first base and finishing second in American League rookie-of-the-year voting.

Four games into 2012, the vultures are circling again, questioning whether the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Trumbo can make the difficult transition from first base to third base, a move necessitated by the signing of Albert Pujols.

Trumbo, 26, has given them plenty of ammunition, committing three errors in his first two starts at third and prompting questions about whether the Angels are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

But neither Trumbo nor the Angels are ready to give up on an experiment that, if successful, will get Trumbo’s powerful bat into the lineup more often.

“It takes some fortitude to go out there because you know if you fumble something, you’re going to hear about it,” Trumbo said. “I try to look at the big picture and realize there are going to be some hiccups along the way, and as long as you contribute in some other way, you’re going to get through it.”

Trumbo, who has three hits in seven at-bats, looked relatively comfortable at third by the end of spring training but acknowledged his confidence was shaken a bit by his errant throw, bobbled grounder and misplay of a popup against Kansas City.

Manager Mike Scioscia said the team had not discussed temporarily assigning Trumbo to triple-A Salt Lake, where he could play third every night for a week or two.

“When he makes that one play that’s a little tough, which he’s capable of doing, and handles the routine stuff, I think his confidence will rise and he’ll get more games there,” Scioscia said.

Only 24 players since 1950 have transitioned from first to third and played 300 games or more at third, according to research by blogger David Schoenfield. Only one, Enos Cabell, did not play third in the minor leagues, like Trumbo.

“What he’s trying to do — learn a new position on the fly at the major league level — is not the easiest thing in the world,” General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “But we believe in him, we know he’s putting in the effort, and we’re not expecting miracles. He’s worked very hard to get to the point he is.”

With as much time as he spends on defense, Trumbo, who had a too-low .291 on-base percentage and too-high strikeouts-to-walk ratio (120 to 25) last season, knows he needs to improve at the plate.

He was reminded of his deficiencies by Sports Illustrated, which, in its 2012 preview issue, wrote that Trumbo “was a better story [last season] than he is a ballplayer. Making the defense worse to get his low OBP and power into the lineup is counter-productive.”

To which Trumbo responded: “It’s certainly not the first time I’ve seen an unflattering critique of my play. I take it with a grain of salt. I understand there are things I need to get better at. I used it as motivation.

“I take a lot of pride in proving people wrong.”

Trumbo tried to go deeper into counts this spring and believes that as his grasp of the strike zone improves and pitchers approach him with more caution, his walks will rise. He also has had several conversations with Pujols, who has shared his insight on hitting.

“He said to not be so much on the defensive with two strikes,” Trumbo said. “Strikeouts are part of the game, but there’s no reason to try to protect the plate too much. If you’re protecting, you’ll probably chase more pitches.

“You never want to strike out looking, but at certain times you can live with it. Now, I have the confidence to take that borderline pitch, and maybe the next time, if it’s slightly in or away, it will be ball four instead.”

Sports Illustrated also wrote that “the likelihood the lumbering Trumbo will be able to handle third base is small,” a statement Trumbo will have to do a lot more to refute as the Angels resume their series against the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night at Target Field.

The same story said that “despite the counting statistics, Trumbo wasn’t all that good last year,” Trumbo can’t help but wonder: Did those 29 homers and 87 RBIs not count?

“One statistic a lot of these numbers crunchers overlook is RBIs,” Trumbo said. “I’ve read some stuff where they say they’re a byproduct of guys around them. Anyone who makes comments like that probably never played much or at all.

“They don’t know what it’s like to hit with runners in scoring position. It’s not easy. I understand the new-school aspect of stats, and I know the game is evolving in that direction, but I can’t try to be somebody I’m not.”

Like a third baseman? Time will tell.

“We weren’t anticipating Mark would compete for a Gold Glove,” Dipoto said, “but it’s still way too early in the process to pass judgment on where he is.”