1/21/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Double-threat stars have emerged from coast to coast
Trout leads group of young players who possess elite combination of power and speed
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
If the kind of player who moves you is one who combines blinding speed with the power to send baseballs to distant places, this is a great time to be a fan.
Long gone is the era of one-dimensional big boppers and station-to-station offense, recalled irreverently by one prominent manager as "the slow-pitch softball days." Led by Mike Trout, the new generation's answer to Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, we're seeing the emergence of a whole fleet of under-30 power-and-speed athletes driving offenses.
Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez, Matt Kemp, Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Adam Jones, Jason Kipnis and Ian Desmond are among the new breed capable of beating you with their wheels and their wheelhouse.
"You have to go back a long time to find so many five-tool players coming into the game, guys with the ability to change a game with their speed and power," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "These young guys are for real."
On the horizon, waiting to showcase game-changing skills, is another crop of high-end talent led by outfielders Byron Buxton of the Twins, the Astros' George Springer and the Pirates' Gregory Polanco. Future A's shortstop Addison Russell is another athletic marvel.
Any discussion of power/speed dynamos starts with Trout, simply because there is no one quite like him. His first two full Major League seasons have been historic in dimension in large part because he is as fast as anyone and as powerful as anyone. Seriously. That's a fact, not hyperbole. Superman lives.
Trout's raw speed is undeniable; all you have to do is trust your eyes as you watch him run down a fly ball or turn a routine single into a double. The numbers crunchers can explain in detail why the born-to-run kid from New Jersey has been baseball's best baserunner since he broke into Scioscia's Angels lineup on an everyday basis in 2012.
What might be surprising to those who don't watch him regularly is that Trout hits the ball consistently as far as anybody -- farther, in fact, than anyone in the game in 2013, according to the findings of Baseball Info Solutions in the 2014 Bill James Handbook.
Trout's average distance of 420 feet on his 27 home runs was the longest in the game, by two feet over the Royals' Eric Hosmer. Trout, in his age-21 season, gained 10 feet per blast over his breakout 2012, when he ranked eighth in the American League in average distance while going deep 30 times.
Turning to one of his coaches during Trout's rookie season, former Indians manager Manny Acta remarked, "That must be the way the Mick used to look, to be the fastest guy on the field and the strongest one."
Surprising as it might sound, Trout exceeded the average distance of Miguel Cabrera's home runs in both MVP campaigns by the Tigers slugger.
James, the sabermetrics guru, explains in his past two handbooks how Trout has been the game's premier baserunner, edging the likes of Rajai Davis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Elvis Andrus.
In his first at-bat in a big league uniform, late in a Cactus League game in Tucson, Ariz., an 18-year-old Trout shot a bullet to right-center and was at third base in a blur.
"I love running the bases," Trout said. "It's one of my favorite parts of the game." Along with hitting, fielding and leaving grownups and kids alike in awe.
Trout, who has averaged 30 homers, 333 total bases and 41 steals per 162 games played, has a lot of company in this elite class of swift young sluggers.
The Dodgers have two such players in their outfield -- assuming Kemp, 29, returns from ankle and shoulder injuries to a form resembling his dominant 2011 season, during which he produced 39 homers and 40 steals.
Puig, the 23-year-old force of nature from Cuba, has the tools to join the exclusive 40/40 club if he smooths over some rough edges, on and off the field.
His judgment on the bases can be questioned, but improvement will come if he listens to Davey Lopes and Maury Wills, his tutors. Puig can fly, and his power to all fields is astonishing. In spite of a late-season slump, Puig's .932 OPS while playing right field led all Major Leaguers at that position, edging Jayson Werth's .930.
The National League leaders in OPS in left and center were Gonzalez and McCutchen, respectively.
Gonzalez, the Rockies' superlative 28-year-old athlete, has had at least 22 homers and 20 steals in each of the past four seasons and is a career .300 hitter with a .530 slugging mark.
McCutchen, the Pirates' reigning NL MVP, has averaged 23 homers and 28 steals per 162 games in his five seasons. He creates runs -- a league-best 125 in 2012, according to Elias Sports Bureau -- and takes them away with sensational defense in center field.
Harnessing his exceptional if inconsistent talents for the Brewers, Gomez, 28, was a highlight-reel regular in center last year while producing 24 homers, 10 triples and 40 steals.
A return to form by 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun, 30, following his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs could give the Brewers three power/speed weapons. Shortstop Jean Segura, a former Angels farmhand, was one of the surprise stories of 2013 by developing pop (12 homers, 10 triples) to go with his blazing speed (44 steals).
The A's, like the Dodgers, have a pair of power/speed components in the outfield. Coco Crisp (22 homers, 21 steals) had a superb 2013 season at 33, and the gifted Cespedes needs only to stay healthy to be a 20/20 man. His 162-game averages in two seasons are 30 homers and 14 steals. Josh Reddick has the ability to make it a rare athletic threesome in Oakland.
As with Cespedes, there are no questions about Harper's skills at 21, a year younger than Trout and a legitimate five-tool player. The issue is keeping Harper on the field and away from unyielding walls.
The Nationals' 2012 NL Rookie of the Year has light-tower power and can motor at high speeds. His 162-game norms are 26 homers and 18 steals, but he played only 118 games in 2013.
On the heels of back-to-back 20/20 seasons that included career highs of 25 homers in '12 and 25 steals in '11, Desmond, 28, gives the Nationals a rare power/speed package at shortstop.
Indians second baseman Kipnis appears to be succeeding Ian Kinsler, now with the Tigers, as the premier dual threat at his position. Kipnis, 27, combined 17 homers with 30 steals in 2013. Kinsler had 30/30 seasons in 2009 and 2011.
Goldschmidt, 26, is known as a rocket launcher in Arizona, but the first baseman can run, too. He had 15 steals to go with his 36 blasts in finishing as the MVP runner-up to McCutchen. Goldschmidt's 131 runs created led the NL, according to Elias. The Royals own a similar type of first baseman in Hosmer, who can run and drive the ball.
Jones, whose baserunning isn't accented in hitter-friendly Camden Yards, has had 65 homers and 30 steals combined over the past two seasons. At 28, the Orioles center fielder is in his prime.
On the other side of 30, a number of dual threats continue to flourish -- notably Hanley Ramirez, Shin-Soo Choo, Werth, Alex Rios, Kinsler, Will Venable and Chase Headley. The Phillies' fortunes will skyrocket if Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley can turn back the clock to their glory days, as old buddy Shane Victorino did (15 homers, 21 steals) for the 2013 World Series-champion Red Sox.
These are exciting times for fans -- especially those who grew up when masters such as Mays, Mantle, Clemente, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Al Kaline ruled the land.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.