Mark Trumbo prepares for another challenge with Angels
— If Mark Trumbo weren’t so accommodating and willing to adapt, he might complain publicly about being jerked around a bit by the Angels, who have a funny way of showing their appreciation for the young slugger.
Trumbo replaced the injured Kendrys Morales and led the team with 29 home runs and 87 runs batted in as a rookie in 2011 but lost his first base job when the Angels signed Albert Pujols before 2012.
Bouncing between third base, first base, left field, right field and designated hitter last season, Trumbo made the All-Star team and, despite a lengthy second-half slump, finished with a .268 average, 32 home runs and 95 runs batted in.
When Torii Hunter left in November, General Manager Jerry Dipoto committed to an outfield of Mike Trout in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Trumbo in right.
Then the Angels signed right fielder Josh Hamilton in December, pushing Trumbo to a primary designated hitter role, another difficult transition for a 27-year-old used to playing defense.
But instead of resisting the move, Trumbo is rolling with it.
“There hasn’t been a year with any kind of relative certainty of my position,” said Trumbo, a first-round pick from Villa Park High in 2004, “so why start now?”
Of Trumbo’s 290 starts, 23 have come at DH, where he has hit .306 with five home runs and 16 RBIs. So, he has had experience and success at the spot. But he has never done it as much as he expects to this season.
“It’s definitely a little different,” said Trumbo, who will also spell Hamilton in right field and Pujols at first base. “I will pick some people’s brains and try to find a plan that works for me.”
Trumbo has already spoken to former Angels right fielder Tim Salmon, who made 356 of his 1,260 starts at DH.
“He said you have to find what gives you the best chance for success,” Trumbo said. “I like to run quite a bit, so I can simulate coming off an inning of defense as opposed to sitting there and watching things happen.
“You also have to let go of at-bats as quick as you can. When you don’t have that other side of the game to focus on, you can sit there and dwell on things, and things can spiral on you.”
That was always a challenge for Salmon, who, despite consulting Hall of Fame member Paul Molitor for DH tips, hit better as a right fielder (.286 average, .514 slugging) than DH (.267, .444).
“You can wear yourself out as a DH if you do too much swinging or running,” said Salmon, who is in camp as a guest instructor. “Molitor said he’d watch the game, imagine himself playing defense for three outs and do a quick run in the tunnel to get his legs loose before hitting. He kept it simple.
“I would err more toward that than losing your swing five times a night on the tee. With video and the cage, you can swing yourself into a rut. Watching your last at-bat, lamenting over a pitch down the middle that you popped up. ‘What did I do wrong? Now what can I do?’ You can’t do that.”
Batting fifth behind Pujols and Hamilton, Trumbo will be in the heart of what should be one of baseball’s most potent lineups. But for Trumbo to drive the ball and produce, he must adapt to his new role as he did in his utility job last season.
“I’d still like to contribute a lot in the field, but I also understand we have a tremendous cast of characters who are proven quality defenders,” Trumbo said. “If I’m a better fit in certain spots, I’m all for it. Obviously, my bat is the strongest part of my game.”
That was apparent for 31/2 months last season when Trumbo hit .307 with a .358 on-base percentage, .630 slugging, 27 home runs and 66 RBIs in 85 games through July 20.
But the rest of the season Trumbo hit .213 with a .258 OBP, .293 slugging, five home runs and 29 RBIs in 59 games as the Angels failed to reach the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
Trumbo participated in the home run derby and suffered an upper-back strain in late July, but neither factored into his slump as much as a troublesome front leg.
“A lot of my struggles revolved around my stride,” Trumbo said. “I was rotating out on my front knee too quick, and the knee had too much give in it. There wasn’t that smooth transition, and it gave me that in-between effect. I was late on fastballs, early on breaking balls and fouling off pitches I could hit.”
According to ESPN’s home run tracker, Trumbo, who is 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds, ranked fourth in the majors with 12 “no-doubt” home runs. But the swing that generates so many long balls can lead to some long slumps.
“Mark has a big swing, he has long arms and leverages the ball, and hitters like that are going to be a little streakier than guys like Ron Cey, who sat there with those little penguin arms and hit the ball,” Manager Mike Scioscia said.
“So he’s going to be extremely productive for periods of time, then there’s going to be some soft spots. That’s the nature of how he’s built. But when you put it all together — his average, homers, RBIs — he’s going to break open and help you win many more games than he’s going to be non-productive and not contributing.”
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