In the blink of an eye, it seems, Mike Trout has become the best player in baseball. He’s a freak and a phenom who plays as if he’s on a double shot of 5-hour Energy.
A year ago, Trout was opening the season with the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. Now, he’s the leader of a superstar-filled lineup for the Los Angeles Angels, who could be the best team in baseball.
In 139 games in the majors last year, Trout batted .326 and totaled 182 hits, 30 home runs and 83 RBIs. He added 49 stolen bases in 54 attempts, and his outfield defense was spectacular. What can the 21-year-old do for an encore?
“He will be better than last year,” said Dave Cokin, a Las Vegas handicapper and ESPN Radio host. “He could go 40-40 this year. There’s a real shot of that happening.”
If Trout rips 40 homers, it won’t be a surprise. He’s got power, speed and everything else a great player needs. He’s also got Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton hitting behind him.
Trout is playing for $510,000 this season, making him baseball’s best bargain. The Angels’ recent spending spree, which included the signing of Hamilton from the rival Texas Rangers, has put them in position to win the American League West and possibly much more.
At William Hill sports books, the Angels are minus-180 favorites in their division and 7-1 co-favorites to win the World Series. Oddsmakers at the LVH set the Angels’ regular-season win total at 92.
“Unless their pitching is a disaster, the Angels look like the best team in the division,” Cokin said.
Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson top a rotation that is good enough on paper, but the bullpen might be thin.
“I think the Angels are going to have trouble winning 90 games,” handicapper Bruce Marshall (Goldsheet.com) said. “The pitching bothers me a little bit. That bullpen was just such a mess last year.”
Texas, Oakland and Seattle won’t fall down and play dead. The AL West is arguably baseball’s strongest division, even with the addition of Houston as the doormat. The Astros have a $25 million payroll and MLB’s lowest projected win total of 59.
■ AL EAST — CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees open the season Monday against Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox. The aces will look familiar, the lineups will not. The Yankees will be missing injured stars Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, not to mention Alex Rodriguez, who’s expected to be on the disabled list until the All-Star break.
It’s addition by subtraction for the Red Sox, who dumped manager Bobby Valentine after a 69-93 disaster. Cokin said Boston has “maybe a ceiling of 85 wins.”
Toronto (89) and Tampa Bay (87) have the highest posted win totals in the division, followed by the Yankees (84½) and Red Sox (83). That list excludes Baltimore, which made a playoff run last year. I’ll predict the Yankees win at least 86 after a slow start.
“I don’t think the Yankees are a playoff team, and for them that’s a big decline,” Cokin said. “Who knows with Jeter’s ankle? He’s not a kid. There are a whole bunch of problems there.”
The Blue Jays made the boldest offseason moves by adding a few bats and the arms of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the National League Cy Young Award winner for the New York Mets.
“I don’t think Dickey will be as good as he was last year, but he’ll be fine,” Cokin said. “If Johnson is good, Toronto probably wins the division. If he’s not, I think Tampa is going to win the division.”
■ AL CENTRAL — Detroit went into last year’s World Series as the favorite and got swept by San Francisco. The LVH lined the Tigers’ win total at 93, highest in the majors. They should dominate their division just as Justin Verlander, who won 17 games last year and 24 in 2011, owns hitters.
“The only way the Tigers don’t win the division is if they forfeit a bunch of games,” Cokin said. “The rest of the division is hideous.”
■ NL WEST — If the Los Angeles Dodgers don’t win big with a monster payroll, manager Don Mattingly is in trouble. Clayton Kershaw leads a pitching staff with a few questions in the bullpen. It’s not a flawless team.
Before an injury last year, center fielder Matt Kemp was blossoming into baseball’s best player. A proposition at William Hill books pits Kemp against the Angels’ Trout, and Kemp is a minus-125 favorite to total more combined hits, home runs and RBIs.
The LVH posted the Dodgers’ win total at 91, with the Giants at 88.
Arizona, which broke even at 81-81 last year, should bounce back and has a good shot to top its win total of 82½.
“The Giants could have the same hangover they had two years ago,” Cokin said.
■ NL CENTRAL — Stunned in the postseason by the Giants, the Cincinnati Reds will stay in the pennant hunt and are minus-140 favorites to win the division behind bombers Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. But don’t count out the St. Louis Cardinals.
Marshall is inclined to kick the Cubs while they are down, projecting Chicago to fall short of its low win total of 72½.
■ NL EAST — A year ago, Philadelphia was the clear favorite. The Phillies faded, however, and seem almost forgotten now. Roy Halladay has lost velocity and won’t be the ace he once was, but the pitching still is solid, and star infielders Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are healthy.
“Watch out for the Phillies, who I think have been disregarded too much,” said Marshall, recommending Philadelphia to top its win total of 84½.
Washington has the NL’s highest lined win total at 92. Bryce Harper, the phenom from Las Vegas, played in 139 games as a rookie and hit .270 with 22 homers and 59 RBIs. Harper is stronger going into this season, and his prop totals at William Hill — 28 homers, 84½ RBIs — indicate he’s going to be even better for the loaded Nationals.
“Harper has got a real shot to be MVP,” Cokin said. “I think the Nationals are going to win that division comfortably.”
The season is just beginning. A World Series showdown between Harper and Trout would make for a perfect ending.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.