Early one morning, Mike Trout found himself in the indoor batting cage alone with Albert Pujols.
Not an easy moment to break the ice for a 20-year old in his second big league camp. Before long, though, they were talking hitting. Pujols was advising Trout, the Angels' No. 1 prospect, to keep his head down and to concentrate on hitting the ball up the middle. Voila, free hitting tip from one of the best right-handed hitters who has ever lived. Sometimes it pays to speak up.
"He reminds me of myself when I was in camp my first year," Pujols said of Trout. "I asked a lot of questions of the veteran guys because I knew later on, it was going to help me."
The most obvious contribution Pujols will make to this offense is production. Even last year, his worst season, he would have led the team in batting average, home runs, RBIs and OPS. His presence in the on-deck circle will get Howie Kendrick more strikes and more fastballs to hit. His ability to get on base will offer RBI chances to guys like Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter.
But a less tangible, critical impact he could have is on the lineup's personality. When Vladimir Guerrero was here, the Angels were the freest-swinging team in the American League. After Bobby Abreu arrived, the Angels started taking pitches and getting on base more frequently. As Abreu's career faltered, so did his influence.
The 2011 Angels finished 11th in the American League with a .313 on-base percentage. Pujols had a .366 OBP last year, the worst of his career, but his career mark is .420.
"Last year, I wasn’t really patient at all," Pujols said. "I chased some bad pitches and part of that is because I wasn’t comfortable at the plate. People always think this game is easy. It’s easy to watch it on TV, it’s easy to watch it from the stands, but whenever you’re out there playing, it’s hard."
Eight games into the Cactus League schedule, already Pujols' influence seems real. The Angels have walked 33 times and the team OBP is .405.
"Albert’s a blessed hitter that has such a short, powerful stroke that it allows him to do things that other hitters might not be capable of," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "As far as understanding pitching, as far as understanding the discipline of situational hitting, he has very few peers in baseball."