When Kendrys Morales suffered a setback from his rehab from a broken leg early in the 2011 season, the door was left open for young Mark Trumbo to show what he was capable of. During his rookie season, he impressed everyone, leading the team in home runs, with 29, and finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. He flashed a defensive ability at first and a powerful swing at the plate that made some think he may just work out in the big leagues.
There were some warning signs that it may not happen, though. While Trumbo could not knock the ball out of the park with every swing, he was also just as likely (or quite a bit more likely) to swing and miss. He posted a pretty dismal .291 on-base percentage, one of the worst in baseball, which likely cost him the AL ROY. He expanded his strike zone more and more as the season wore on, and finished the year with the fifth highest chase percentage in the majors on his way to striking out 120 times while taking just 25 walks.
During the offseason, Trumbo went through a lot of changes. The acquisition of Albert Pujols displaced the young slugger from first, and the re-signing of Morales meant the DH position was closed off to him for every day at-bats. He spent his spring trying to learn third base while also working on refining his approach at the plate. He has said that he recognized the need to be more patient and draw a few more walks to get some better pitches that he could be aggressive with and drive. One of those offseason experiments has worked out better than the other.
Trumbo has been one of the hottest bats in the Angels lineup, leading the team once again in home runs with 10 shots this season, including one in each of his last four games, but also in hits (54) and batting average (.348). Most surprisingly, and impressively, Trumbo leads the team in on-base percentage at a clip of .396 and is third on the team with a dozen free passes already this season. His 1.029 OPS ranks third in the American League among qualified hitters behind only Josh Hamilton and Paul Konerko.
There were plenty of red flags about Trumbo’s game to worry about coming into this season. He swings at too much junk, struggles too much with breaking pitches, expands the zone, can’t get on base, and doesn’t have a position to play in the field, and on and on about how he wouldn’t be able to contribute to this club. He understood his approach last year was unsustainable, so he buckled down and changed it completely, re-working his approach to make himself a long-term big league star. The results have been undeniable and the Angels are now reaping the rewards of his hard work.