Mark Trumbo of the Los Angeles Angels currently leads the American League with a 176 OPS+, hitting .323/.376/.629 overall, with 15 doubles, 17 homers, 19 walks, and 58 strikeouts in 250 plate appearances. This is one of the biggest surprises in baseball this year, and it is time to do a Prospect Retro.
Mark Trumbo was drafted by the Anaheim Angels in the 18th round in 2004, from Villa Park High School in Orange, California. Trumbo was primarily a pitcher in high school and highly regarded by scouts, but he was also strongly committed to college baseball at Southern California. It took $1,425,000 to convince him otherwise, and the Angels surprised everyone by making him a first baseman/outfielder.
Trumbo hit .274/.322/.458 in 71 games for Orem in the rookie-level Pioneer League, with a 21/67 BB/K ratio in 299 at-bats. He drew good notice for his power potential, although his OPS was actually right around league-average for the Pioneer League. I gave him a Grade C, noting his long-term potential but also pointing out that his hitting needed refinement.
Moved up to Cedar Rapids in the Low-A Midwest League in 2006, Trumbo hit .220/.293/.355 with 13 homers, 44 walks, and 99 strikeouts in 428 at-bats. I saw him play for the first time, and, well, he didn't look too good. His physical strength was obvious, but his swing was long and slow, and he looked confused at the plate, chasing stuff outside the strike zone yet also letting hittable pitches go by. At the time I felt he would probably end up going back to the mound, and I didn't put him in the 2007 book.
Returning to Cedar Rapids in '07, he improved somewhat to a .272/.326/.427 mark with 14 homers, 34 walks, and 98 strikeouts in 471 at-bats. He improved his approach at the plate, but his swing still looked flawed to me. I did restore him to the book, giving him a Grade C entering 2008 and writing that the "friendlier hitting environment in the California League will help him."
Indeed it did: he hit .283/.329/.553 with 26 homers, 26 walks, and 67 strikeouts in 407 at-bats for Rancho Cucamonga, followed by a .276/.311/.496 mark with six homes, seven walks, and 29 strikeouts in 123 games for Double-A Arkansas. His defense at first base was pretty terrible (he made 22 errors), but there was progress with the bat. I saw him late in the year, and he'd quickened up his swing enough that he was handling fastballs well. His swing was much better than it had been in Cedar Rapids. On the other hand, breaking pitches still looked like a mystery to him, and defense was looking like a huge problem. I boosted his rating up to a Grade C+.
Trumbo remained with Double-A Arkansas for all of 2009, hitting .291/.333/.452 with 15 homers, 37 walks, and 100 strikeouts in 533 at-bats. This was good enough for +7 percent OPS in the Texas League, above average but not overly impressive for a right-handed-hitting slugger with a bad glove. He grounded into 22 double plays, and continued to have problems with breaking balls.
Although I respected his strength, I didn't see him becoming a major league regular with his skill set as it stood at that point, writing that "Trumbo looks like a guy who will get buried as a minor league slugger," but also noting that he "is still three or four years away from his prime, so it's not too late for him just yet. Guys like this can surprise if you if they get hot at the right time."
Now, the next thing I wrote stands out: "If you're looking for someone who might have a come-out-of-nowhere season in 2012 or 2013, Trumbo is a candidate". However, I followed that up with a hedge, noting "he's not among the elite first base prospects in the game."
Promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake for 2010, Trumbo hit .301/.368/.577 with 36 homers, 122 RBI, 58 walks, and 126 strikeouts in 532 at-bats in the friendly Pacific Coast League. He also went 1-for-15 with eight strikeouts in a major league trial.
Here is his entire book comment from 2011:
Scouting reports from Pacific Coast League observers indicate that Trumbo made progress handling breaking stuff last year, and indeed he boosted his walk rate. His strikeout rate also rose, and while I saw him hit good fastballs just fine in the Texas League in '09, other observers have seen him struggle against them. Whatever the truth about that, his production was substantially better last year, his OPS rising from +7 percent to +19 percent. He also hit well in the Venezuelan Winter League. Trumbo isn't a great gloveman, and all of his value is in his bat. Barring injuries to other players, he'll likely head back to Triple-A and wait for a promotion or trade. I still see him as a "surprise season" candidate in the next couple of years, but keep in mind that it is easy to put up gaudy numbers in Salt Lake. In the majors, I think he's more of a .240-.250 hitter, although with power. Grade C+.
Injuries to other players did open up that spot, and Trumbo hit .254/.291/.477 with 29 homers, 25 walks, and 120 strikeouts in 539 at-bats last year, posting a +111 OPS and a 2.3 WAR. His hitting was pretty much exactly what was expected, but his defense at first base turned out to be better than anticipated, at least according to fielding WAR.
Trumbo has obviously taken another step forward this season, improving his plate discipline in particular. I don't see him as a guy who is going to keep hitting .323 forever, but Trumbo has come an awfully long way from a player who struggled against Low-A pitching.