6/16/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Trout's results are big, because his swing isn't
Consistent, compact approach has Angels center fielder raking again
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Mike Trout has a phrase he'll often repeat to himself when he's at the plate, a three-word sentence that's ever-crucial to the game's best all-around player.
"Don't get big."
It's a reminder, and it means to stay short with his swing and not expand his strike zone. The Angels' center fielder will catch himself "getting big" from time to time, so Trout will step out, collect himself, and at some point before he digs back into the box -- either while he's adjusting his batting gloves or taking a dry swing or exhaling deeply -- he'll think of that phrase and, more often than not, get back to normal on the very next pitch.
Thing is, it isn't supposed to be that easy.
Adjustments like that aren't typically applied that quickly.
"Good hitters, maybe game-to-game or series-to-series," Angels interim hitting coach Dave Hansen said. "But great hitters can adjust within the at-bat. You can go back and look at Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds. … That's a gift, to be able to know themselves like that -- to be able to make speed adjustments, angle adjustments, on the fly. That's pretty special."
The most prevalent example of that came late into the night of June 7, amid the tension and the pressure and the noise of a crucial spot in front of an anxious fan base, when Trout took White Sox ace Chris Sale deep for a game-tying, eighth-inning grand slam. Trout admittedly came to the plate searching for a home run, then fouled off a couple of mid-90s fastball, repeated that magic phrase, stayed up the middle with his swing and smashed a line drive out to left-center field.
"You get big in situations, and you lose your mechanics in the swing," Trout said then. "I just had to remind myself to stay short."
It's rare enough to make adjustments within at-bats; it's a whole different thing to do them within such pressure-packed circumstances -- at just 22 years old.
"Those are separator things, really," said Hansen, who was brought in as an assistant hitting coach but taken on a bigger role since Don Baylor broke his femur on Opening Day. "We talk about it all the time, to be able to quiet stuff down. When [hitters] are going good, they do. But to do it in an at-bat, I mean, that's beautiful stuff. I don't think you can teach that. He's got most of the stuff you can't teach."
Trout owns a .305/.390/.585 slash line, to go along with 14 homers, 50 RBIs and an American League-best 176 OPS-plus. His steals are down (seven in seven attempts) and his strikeouts are up (with 69 punchouts tying him for fourth most in the AL), but he's on pace to hit 33 homers, drive in 119 runs, draw 88 walks and score 107 runs.
He was slumping earlier this year -- well, "slumping" in relative terms - but Trout has recently gone on the kind of tear that always seems inevitable, riding a 10-game hitting streak and batting .429 since May 20.
"He may struggle a little bit from time to time, but not mentally," said Hansen, who pointed out that it's especially important for Trout not to expand his strike zone because his swing is so short.
Trout's best trait may be his plate presence, which includes his strike-zone awareness and his comfort with hitting in two-strike counts. Earlier this year, he was surprisingly missing fastballs and struggling with pitches up and in. He chased pitches a lot more often than usual, striking out basically every three at-bats.
Through it all, he shot himself the same reminder: "Don't get big."
And now he looks like the game's best player again, just like that.
"Remarkable," Hansen said. "I'm impressed with his discipline around the plate. I remember seeing him a couple years ago and thinking, 'How old is this kid? Because he's commanding the strike zone now.' And to see that day in and day out is very impressive to me."
Asked what sticks out most about Trout, Hansen -- the former Dodgers and Mariners hitting coach who is in his first year with the Angels -- mentioned "the consistency with which he does it."
"I mean, it's every day," he said. "[Opponents] really only get to see it in short spurts, three-day segments. But it's amazing all the time. It's so consistent. I think that's what stands out, more than his skill, is the consistency with how he repeats it."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.