Sep 22, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) hits a sacrifice fly against the Oakland Athletics during the first inning at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Los Angeles Angels 8-4. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Los Angeles Angels 8-4. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Imagine the headlines: Cincinnati Reds Center Fielder Mike Trout Wins Rookie of the Year … Trout Joins Lynn and Ichiro as Only Men to Win MVP and ROY in Same Year … Trout Wins Third MVP Award After Leading Reds to World Series Victory. Any and all of it COULD have happened had the Reds selected Trout in the 2009 MLB Draft, but of course, things turned out just a bit different. On Thursday, Trout picked up his first American League Most Valuable Player award after two runner-up finishes, sweeping the first place votes to become the Los Angeles Angels’ first league MVP since Vladimir Guerrero in 2004.
The buzz around the 2009 draft was all about flamethrower Stephen Strasburg, but Trout started to get noticed as his senior season in high school wound down. As May rolled around, Trout was being touted as a talented but raw outfielder and was hitting the mid-first round in most projections, and many had him nosing up into the top of the field. By draft day, though, teams seemed to pull back a bit from the unknown nature of high schoolers, and the picks ticked off the board while Trout waited in the MLB Network studios for his name to be called. He was the only player who showed up, and it made for some very awkward TV.
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The Reds that year were sitting on the Number 8 overall pick, and they were thought to be looking for pitching help. That proved to be the path they took, selecting Mike Leake out of Arizona State. You can’t argue that Leake was a BAD pick, as he has been very solid, and sometimes very good, in his five years in the Majors.
Drafting Leake was seen as a risky proposition by some, because he is considered smallish (5’10”, 190 pounds) by Big League standards for starting pitchers.
But you also have to wonder what might have been had the Reds taken even more of a chance and nabbed Trout, who lasted all the way until the 25th pick. One immediate consequence is that they almost surely would not have selected Billy Hamilton in the second round, as they ultimately did, since Trout would have been their center fielder du jour.
More subtle would have been the effects on Trout himself of being reared in the Reds’ system rather than on the Angels’ farm. The Angels were very aggressive in promoting Trout, and he made his Big League debut at age 19 in 2011. After that “cup of coffee,” LA held Trout back until May of the next season to gain a little more long-term control on his contract situation, but then they turned him loose, and neither the player nor the team has looked back.
The Reds have traditionally been more conservative with their youngsters, as we have seen this year with Jesse Winker. Chances are that Trout would have received a bit more “seasoning” with Cincinnati than he did in the AL. Eventually, though, you’d have to think that Trout would have found his swagger on the Riverfront, and the combo of Joey Votto and Mike Trout would have been epic.
Of course, Trout’s emergence would likely have influenced the Reds as they considered whether or not to sign Votto to that 100-year contract a few years back. Rather than wondering what the Reds were going to do with all of their free agent pitchers, we might instead be debating whether the team could retain both Votto and Trout.
Would the Reds have been better off overall? Heck if I know, but they would have been more fun to watch, at any rate.