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Senior Baseball Columnist

Expect the legend of Mike Trout to grow in sophomore season

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- What does Superman do after he saves the planet?

Here comes Baseball's Best Player for his encore, faster than a speeding bullet and maybe even more powerful than locomotives Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton combined.

(Maybe.)

Now he is looking to leap the sophomore slump in a single bound and take the Angels with him deep into 2013.

Can Mike Trout do it?

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Will he do it?

A scout who has watched him plenty this spring twists his face into something more contorted than any baseball crushed by Trout.

"I don't think I've seen him make an out this spring," the guy exclaims. "I saw him hit two balls the other day that looked like two irons."

A roommate who has lived with him all the way up the minor-league ladder at Class A (Cedar Rapids, Cucamonga), Double-A (Arkansas) and Triple-A (Salt Lake) marvels at the way Trout shrugs off instant superhero status.

"Mike deals with it all pretty well," pitcher Garrett Richards, 24, says. "He's a good kid, you know?"

The Mightiest Man in the Game -- arguably, of course -- sits at his locker early on a spring morning all revved up with a new season to go.

"I feel great," Trout says. "I'm anxious to get going. I'm fully healthy. No problems. I feel good."

At 21, Mike Trout is still growing -- a scary thing for opposing pitchers and clubs.

He caused an incredible stir on the eve of this camp with the revelation that he added between 10 and 15 pounds over the winter and was up to 241.

Even though his body fat held at 9 percent, some wondered whether 241 was too much for a 6-foot-2 man whose speed is an enormous part of his game.

What people forget is that he is still so young that his metabolism remains capable of outracing his legs. Trout already is down to 233.

Scouts are still clocking him from home to first between 4.02 and 4.05 seconds.

"The stopwatch hasn't shown any signs of negative weight," one says.

It hardly seems possible that little more than one year ago, pre-legend, Trout was buzzing into Tacoma with the rest of the Salt Lake Bees for opening day of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League season.

"I remember it was cold. It's going to be like Cincinnati will be," Trout says, anticipating the Angels' opener Monday. "Real cold."

"There wasn't any sunlight," Richards says. "We had an early flight, and we got to Tacoma early in the morning. It was still dark outside."

Opening day for the Bees, Trout punched out three singles and scored twice. Not long after, in a story still re-told, Trout scored from first base ... on a single.

He was in the majors by month's end, debuting on April 28 and authoring the greatest rookie season in baseball history.

Among many other feats, Trout became the first player ever -- rookie or veteran -- to swipe 45 bags, score 125 runs and smash 30 homers in a single season.

He also became the only major leaguer ever to hit .320 or higher with 30 homers and 45 steals in a single season.

This after a viral infection caused him to lose 20 pounds last spring -- yes, that's one big reason he intentionally added weight this year. He battled a sore shoulder last spring as well.

He led the majors with 129 runs even though he missed the first month of the season. His 49 thefts also topped the majors.

The numbers were cartoonishly ludicrous. Trout cruised into the All-Star break at .341 with 15 doubles, 12 homers, 40 RBI and 26 steals in 64 games.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Trout's 10.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was the best for any player since Barry Bonds went 11.6 in both 2001 and 2002. And only three players 25 or younger ever produced a better WAR: Babe Ruth (11.6 at 25 in 1920), Lou Gehrig (11.5 at 24 in 1927) and Mickey Mantle (11.0 at 24 in 1956 and 11.1 at 25 in 1957).

He finally appeared human during the season's final two months, hitting .287 with 67 strikeouts in 58 games.

But don't tell Angels manager Mike Scioscia that Trout downshifted from superhero to mere All-Star during that time.

"I didn't see that downgrade," Scioscia says. "I don't know what you're talking about, really. This guy played as consistent baseball as you could play. And if there's any statistical dropoff, it might just be the function of playing the game of baseball. It could be a small sample.

"This guy, he had a magical year."

By midseason, Trout had grown into a rare combination of superstar and folk hero. Maybe it was his youth. Maybe it was his speed. Maybe it was all of the above.

"It gets funny at times," Richards says. "It makes it hard to do the simplest things, like go eat or go grocery shopping.

"We pick and choose our times. We've had people follow us. Not paparazzi. It's fans. They want things. Autographs. They're persistent.

"It's really crazy."

Example: Sometime before the All-Star break last summer, Trout and Richards were grocery shopping in Anaheim, walking up and down the aisles, pushing their cart, when a man approached and confirmed what his disbelieving eyes were telling him.

"So the guy went away," Richards says. "Ten minutes later, he comes back with a plastic Angels helmet from the toy aisle asking Mike to sign it.

"It was a little $3 plastic helmet. It was still in the packaging. So Mike signed something the guy hadn't even paid for yet."

Of course, a Twitter handle was quickly up and running, Mike Trout Facts, feeding the legend with gems such as "Dos Equis Man wears Mike Trout pajamas" and "The square root of Mike Trout is a home run."

To that, you can add these actual true facts: Aside from Subway, which he is now endorsing (you've probably seen the commercials during the Super Bowl and NCAA basketball tournament), he digs Domino's.

"He loves chicken wings," Richards says. "He's a Domino's fan. That's not just in one place, either. He'll find a Domino's wherever we're at.

"He'll eat 24 wings in about 10 minutes."

Only thing he devours more quickly is opposing pitching.

Was he robbed in last season's AL MVP voting?

Many angrily insist yes.

He is not bitter about finishing second to Miguel Cabrera, and settling for a unanimous vote in the AL Rookie of the Year award.

"It was pretty neat just to go into the end of last year and having my name mentioned in the MVP talks," Trout says. "It was a great feeling. It was pretty cool experience to be a part of that."

Nor is he bitter that the Angels renewed his contract for 2013 at $510,000.

"Just go out there and play," he says.

This is what he does, what he loves to do. Trout in the Angels clubhouse each afternoon is Clark Kent in the phone booth. He emerges, and the possibilities are boundless.

"My mindset is, don't worry about numbers," he says. "Do everything you can to help your team win."

The dreaded sophomore slump?

"Means nothing," he says. "I don't see that stuff. I don't believe it."

He told colleague Jon Heyman earlier this spring that he wants to steal more bases.

He also wants to cut down on his strikeouts. He, too, noted the 67 over the final two months of 2012.

"You have a chance to get a hit if you put the ball in play," he reasons.

Especially with his speed.

So here he is, Baseball's Best Player, racing toward his encore. Still growing. Still maturing. What trick will he perform next? Which fence will he scale?

"Last year went by so quick," he says. "I had so much fun."

How does Mike Trout look this spring?

"Looks great to me," says one scout. "Looks like he'll hit 40 instead of 30. He looks stronger, more physical.

"He looks like a man."

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