Adaptability makes Trumbo a vital cog for the Halos
Slugger's ability to move easily between positions keeps him in Scioscia's lineup
ANAHEIM -- Mark Trumbo learned to adapt at an early age, and it has paid off handsomely in the years that have followed.
Trumbo threw serious heat, in the mid-to-upper 90s, at Villa Park (Calif.) High School, right down the road from Angel Stadium. He figured he'd be drawing paychecks as a pitcher. But a physical exam by the Angels, after they'd selected him in 2004 First-Year Player Draft, pointed him in a different direction. Trumbo became a hit man.
And hit he has, everywhere his travels have taken him. An All-Star for the first time last season -- wowing fans in Kansas City and on national TV with his Home Run Derby exhibition of raw power -- Trumbo has been the one consistently productive Angels hitter during a troubling start to the 2013 season.
"You can't really feel good about things individually when your team is struggling," Trumbo said. "We need to turn this around."
In a lineup featuring Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, Trumbo is the leader in homers, total bases and slugging, and he's tied with Trout for the RBI lead. His two-run homer against the Orioles' Freddy Garcia on Saturday was Trumbo's eighth of the season and fifth in the past six games. They're still talking about a drive in Oakland estimated at 475 feet. It could have been closer to 500 feet.
"That was one of my top five," Trumbo said, adding with characteristic modesty that "it was a windy day, and that helped."
What's remarkable about Trumbo's production is that he's doing it in a role that would be disorienting to a less adaptive player. Trumbo is the "Man Without a Position," or so it appears -- as he moves from first base to right field to designated hitter to left field, depending on manager Mike Scioscia's needs on a given day.
"Actually," Trumbo said, digging past the surface in that thoughtful way he has, "I have four positions. I look forward to the challenge of playing any of the four and contributing whatever I can."
The celebrated signings of expensive free agents Pujols and Hamilton the past two winters have locked up two positions Trumbo plays, and Trout owns the third when Peter Bourjos, Trumbo's buddy, returns to center field with a healed hamstring. If that means he will continue to be the "Moving Man," Trumbo has no complaints at all. With 29 homers in his 2011 rookie year and 32 as a sophomore, he's moving on up.
"I guess it would be nice to have some sort of idea [of where I play]," Trumbo said. "But I've done it so long, I don't really get caught off guard by it. I've played enough of all those positions to have a good idea. I try to make as many of the routine plays as I can. The other ones, if I make them -- awesome.
"I've never had a huge issue with it; I don't know if I have an issue at all. It was me originally who made a push for the outfield, in Double-A [Arkansas] in 2009. I exclusively played first until then. As a young player, the more you can do, the better your chances of getting where you want to be."
A fifth position, briefly held, is on Trumbo's resume. He began 2012 as the Angels' third baseman, and made a highlight play to preserve Jered Weaver's no-hitter. But you don't see a lot of 6-foot-4, 235-pound third basemen, and there are good reasons for that.
"That was, by far, the most challenging thing I've done at any level," Trumbo said.
At first base, Trumbo has moved well past adequate into the plus category. He's quick, alert, has soft hands and uses his powerful arm to make baserunners think twice about advancing. He has made consistent strides in the outfield, making several high-level plays in the past week in right.
Scioscia ascribes Trumbo's versatility to natural gifts and the work ethic required to sharpen them. There is not a more intensely driven athlete in the employ of owner Arte Moreno.
"Mark's a good athlete," Scioscia said. "He has really good tools -- tremendous arm, he moves well, and he has a confidence that you don't see too often in a player. I think that's the big key to how he's been able to handle the role he has. As Mark puts it, it's better than being on the bench. He's fine with moving around in different looks to get his at-bats."
The transition from playing in the field to serving as the DH -- Trumbo's primary role -- is not as simple as one might imagine. It's important for a hitting specialist to maintain the mental edge he would draw from carrying a glove to a position.
"I actually don't mind it at all," Trumbo said. "With all the available facilities we have, you can stay locked in. I'll come back during the game and hit, run sprints, ride the bike -- just simulate the same feeling I'd have coming off the field, breaking a sweat to stay in the right physical space."
While he is keenly aware of the second-half slump that followed his superlative first half in 2012 and he does not dwell on the past, he is confident he can avoid a repeat.
"I've changed some things, most of all with my stride," Trumbo said. "My swing got a little long last year. Because of that, I fouled off a lot of pitches that were good to hit. I do better when I have more of an aggressive stride. Right now, I'm using a higher leg kick, and my leverage is better."
The Angels' hit man plans to continue to bang away -- wherever he fits in the manager's lineup.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.