In the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft Mike Trout was destined to go to one of two teams, the Los Angeles Angels or the New York Yankees. Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ scouting director since 2005, was dying to take Trout but knew his chances were slim.
That year, every last team had Stephen Strasburg first on their draft board, but only two had Trout second. They weren’t alone in scouting him though, everyone knew about Trout, but no one wanted to take a high school outfielder from New Jersey in the first round.
The young outfielder has been driven to prove those teams wrong since. Trout set the league on fire in 2012, winning the American League Rookie of the Year in a landslide and recording one of the best statistical seasons ever. His 10.9 wins above replacement that year is tied with Ted Williams for 21st all time in a single season.
So how did 24 picks go by before a team decided to take Trout? Scouts would rather focus their attention in states where baseball can be played year round. Mike’s father, Jeff, told Ken Rosenthal two years ago scouts from nearly every team came to see his son play.
Greg Monhardt, the scout who signed Trout, told Rosenthal northern players are seen as higher risk since they can’t play in the winter. But at the ripe age of 17, Monhardt saw Trout as the strongest, fastest and smartest baseball prospect in the country.
After the compensatory pick for not signing Gerrit Cole the year before, the Yankees were to pick 29th in the first round. After extending qualifying offers to Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez and losing them in free agency, the Angels had the 24th and 25th picks.
In an interview with the New York Daily News in 2012 Oppenheimer recalled his heart skipping a beat when the Angels took an outfielder from a high school in Texas with the 24th pick. For a moment, it looked like the Angels didn’t want to take a chance on Trout.
Oppenheimer was devastated when the Angels took Trout with the 25th pick, their second consecutive high school outfielder. Four picks later, the Yankees took a high school outfielder from Texas of their own, Slade Heathcott.
“We loved [Trout],” Oppenheimer told the NYDN during a July 2012 series with the Angels in the Bronx. “He was a New Jersey kid, a right-handed-hitting outfielder. He wasn’t the media-darling kid from Baseball America, so I’m thinking, ‘We’ve got a shot at him.’”
It was almost too perfect. Trout was from Milville, N.J., he idolized Derek Jeter and he knew the Yankees liked him. Trout was also turning down a scholarship to East Carolina University, but received no such offers from NCAA baseball powerhouses like UCLA, Miami or Texas. He already had a chip on his shoulder and he wasn’t even drafted yet.
Trout has hit over .400 in Yankee Stadium, been on base more than half of his at-bats, slugged seven extra base hits and stole six bases. Trout has not seen the playoffs as an Angel, which is not his fault at all, but that 2009 Amateur Draft will always serve as motivation.
“Yeah, all that stuff motivates me. You know, being picked 25th and not earlier makes you just work at it that much harder to be No. 1,” he told the Huffington Post last year. “I looked at it as an opportunity to try and prove some teams wrong.”