By Greg Beacham/AP Sports Writer
ANAHEIM (AP) –– Mark Trumbo knows more about the Los Angeles Angels than his teammates. He grew up 10 minutes from Angel Stadium, playing for Villa Park High and rooting for the Halos through every name change and logo swap.
Nobody has to tell this slugging first baseman he’s in prime position to make a little franchise history alongside Tim Salmon, the only Angels player to win the AL Rookie of the Year award.
“I talk to (Salmon) all the time,’’ Trumbo said. “He’s been really helpful to me. The guy has walked the walk, so it’s not just hot air coming out. He’s been there, he’s done it, and he’s done it in this ballpark. And he was my favorite player growing up, so that holds a little more (weight) for me, too.’’
The Angels are just grateful another hometown boy made good.
Trumbo is the unlikely engine driving the Los Angeles offense in its playoff chase with Texas, leading the Angels and all AL rookies with 26 homers and 80 RBIs. After starting the season as a stopgap for injured Kendrys Morales, Trumbo has been the Angels’ most dangerous hitter _ and barring a surge by Torii Hunter in the final three weeks, he’ll become the first rookie to lead the Angels in homers and RBIs.
And to think, Trumbo was a secondary thought when the Angels reported to spring training. He simply hoped to build on his few weeks of major league experience with a backup role _ but when Morales’ comeback from a broken leg stalled, Trumbo slugged his way into the lineup and wouldn’t leave.
“What Mark has done is remarkable, and yet we’re not surprised with him,’’ Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We knew he had a great deal of potential, even if he wasn’t our top-rated prospect. He came up last September and showed us what to expect, and (Morales’) injury created an opportunity. He certainly grabbed it.’’
The 25-year-old Trumbo is quietly unimpressed with himself, insisting he knew he could be a star power hitter in the majors if only given the chance. He also resists comparisons to Salmon, who led the Angels with 31 homers in 1993.
Salmon isn’t quite so shy. Now a broadcaster for his only major league club, Salmon cultivated a friendship with Trumbo during spring training.
“I’m pulling for him like a coach would, because you’ve been part of that process of him getting here,’’ Salmon said. “He’s a big power hitter and a guy I could relate to, and I’m a guy he can relate to.’’
The 6-foot-4 Trumbo is an imposing figure at the plate, and he already has a knack for big late-game hits. He contributed the biggest homer of Los Angeles’ season on Aug. 18, a game-ending two-run shot that beat Texas, avoiding a four-game sweep by the AL West-leading Rangers.
Trumbo also has a few similarities to Vladimir Guerrero, the departed Angels slugger whose strike zone is more of an area code. Trumbo has a propensity for hitting line drives on pitches from his shoetops to his shoulders.
“I’m just in awe of the raw power he has,’’ Salmon said of Trumbo, who hit an estimated 471-foot homer against Seattle’s Felix Hernandez last month. “He’s polished for a young hitter in a lot of ways that I wasn’t at that age. He uses the whole field, and that’s another thing that’s probably similar to me. He’s trying to be a complete hitter and hit whatever pitch is thrown, not be one-dimensional or anything like that.’’
Trumbo’s stiffest competition for the Rookie of the Year award is from Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova, who’s making a remarkable second-half run with 11 wins in his last 12 starts, along with Kansas City slugger Eric Hosmer and Tampa Bay pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. Yet it’s tough to imagine any rookie meaning more to his club than Trumbo, who has practically carried the Angels offensively for long stretches of the season.
Trumbo is leading a core of young players who have kept the Angels in the playoff race despite punchless seasons from new slugger Vernon Wells and fellow high-priced veteran Bobby Abreu. Speedy Peter Bourjos has been good enough to take over for nine-time Gold Glove winner Hunter in center field, and 20-year-old Mike Trout already is showing why he made a meteoric rise through the minors. There’s also rookie closer Jordan Walden, who merely made the AL All-Star team.
Next season could provide another challenge for Trumbo. Morales is expected to return from nearly two years out of the game after breaking his leg while jumping on home plate to celebrate a grand slam, and the power-hitting Cuban is likely to regain his job at first base.
Trumbo is already preparing. He occasionally works on his outfield skills before games. During winter ball in Venezuela, he also might try third base, where the Angels don’t have an established starter.
“I feel more comfortable in the outfield at this point,’’ Trumbo said. “I haven’t had too much experience at third base. I wouldn’t be opposed to getting more, but at this point, I’d need to learn a lot of the nuances of that position, but that’s something I’d look forward to doing if that’s what they’re interested in.’’