- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
It can be argued that Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the best prospect in the minor leagues. Entering Wednesday, the 20-year-old is hitting .419 at Triple-A Salt Lake, with one home run, 13 RBIs and 21 runs scored in 19 games, as well as six stolen bases in seven chances. He takes walks and also projects as an elite defensive outfielder. Trout is owned in 3.4 percent of ESPN standard fantasy leagues, and the minute the Angels' brass calls his name or announces its intent to, his name will show prominently on ESPN's most-added list.
For now, Angels fans get to watch Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Torii Hunter, and occasionally the ghost that is Bobby Abreu and impatient first baseman/third baseman Mark Trumbo, handle things in the outfield. Perhaps using the words "handle things" might be a bit unfair. Counting Tuesday's shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Wells leads the team in home runs with three -- all other Angels have hit a combined eight -- but it's difficult to get past his one walk versus 10 strikeouts. Hunter is taking walks (team-leading seven) and is hitting .279, but hasn't homered. Still, I feel like Wells and Hunter were going to be rather limited fantasy options anyway this year; Wells would raise his batting average from last season's .218 and provide power. Hunter still had enough left in the tank to reach 20 home runs and hit .270.
But those clamoring for future fantasy monster Trout to replace Wells or Hunter should turn some of their attention to center fielder Bourjos. While Hunter was a 15th-round pick in ESPN average live drafts and Wells a 23rd-rounder, Bourjos certainly has the most upside. Last season he hit .271, reached double digits in home runs and triples, stole 22 bases and was arguably the top defensive center fielder in the AL. I had Bourjos ranked better than Wells and Hunter for fantasy this season, but I'm certainly questioning that notion now. Sure, it's early, but when the top prospect in the game is needlessly percolating in Utah and Bourjos is hitting .186 after 43 at-bats, that tends to get notice.
Bourjos has just two extra-base hits so far. One was a fly ball turned into an inside-the-park home run when Minnesota Twins left fielder Josh Willingham badly misplayed it. Sure, Bourjos hit the ball hard and far, but his speed and a poor defensive outfielder provided the impetus for the home run. Bourjos has one other extra-base hit, one stolen base and one walk. One wonders if he's about to lose his starting role, defensive excellence or not, especially considering he has minor league options left, and isn't costing the team millions of dollars.
The case can be made, though a bit optimistically, that Trout would be the Angels' second best offensive option right now, which makes it tougher to keep him in the minors when the Angels head into Wednesday's (ESPN-televised) game with the Rays sputtering at 6-11. It's high praise to have these expectations of power, speed and defense from someone not legally allowed to consume alcohol, but with the way the Angels' lineup has been underperforming, Trout's promotion seems imminent.
I thought Bourjos, only 25 years old, would keep getting better and flirt with being universally owned as well, but Wells has played a few games in center field recently and ... well, Bourjos could end up like Brandon Belt soon, starting once a week or being shuttled back and forth to Triple-A. ESPN Fantasy projected 11 home runs and 25 stolen bases for Bourjos, with a major drop in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage, but this start is much worse, and for a team with depth, that's bad news.
It's still April, so I don't want to give up on Bourjos, or any of the Angels in the outfield, for that matter. I actually think Bourjos, Wells and Hunter will all exceed expectations. Bourjos should be hitting 15 home runs and stealing 30 bases in time. Wells won't get on base, but 20 home runs and a .250 batting average is reasonable. Hunter can do more than that. Trout, however, has the potential to top them all. He can still be the Angels' top outfielder this season, even if he gets only 300 at-bats. He can be the Angels' No. 2 hitter after Pujols. Whether he gets that chance or not depends a bit on Wells and Hunter, but more on Bourjos. In a mixed league deeper than 12 teams, I'd preemptively add Trout now, just in case his day comes in May.