Amid the "best shape of my life" stories we get every spring, here's another variation. This year, both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper showed up to camp with considerable weight gain, while Lance Lynn showed up looking like a different person.
Is weight loss or gain a significant predictor for baseball players coming into a season? How will it affect these three young stars?
Mike Trout reported to Angels camp at just over 240 pounds. To put this in perspective, Trout now weighs as much as Miguel Cabrera, who barely beat him in last year's AL MVP voting. While 240 is a big number, remember that even when taking their listed heights into consideration, Cabrera is three inches taller than Trout.
A big part of Trout's excellence (and argument for the MVP) is that he's got a better all-around game. His baserunning and defense are substantially better than Cabrera's.
Will the weight gain slow him down on the bases and in the field? It's hard to believe it won't, but we'll have to see. Trout will be shifting to left field, so mobility isn't going to be as big of an issue.
We have to understand that the weight Trout reported at will be different than what he'll play at. Trout will be heading into his first full major league season, and many think that while his play didn't fall off noticeably, his work this offseason was focused on making it through the long season. It wouldn't surprise anyone to see Trout start the season at a more reasonable 225.
There are a couple of theories out there on Trout's gain, and none are terribly positive. One scout I spoke with thinks this comes down to the MVP vote:
He lost to a guy who won the Triple Crown. I think he realizes steals and defense aren't as valued. Trout's got a competitive fire we like, but if he thinks he's got to hit more homers or drive in runs to get it, I'm not sure that helps the Angels. He's never going to win an RBI title leading off and maybe he's eaten his way out of it.
An AL executive had a different theory:
Long term, this isn't good. There's stories out there about him eating five and six hamburgers at lunch. There's been some concern about this even before he was drafted. A lot of times, we'll look at the family. I can remember one catcher who had a father who was a big guy, really obese, and we knocked him down because we were worried he'd have to fight the weight. He's fought that battle well, but we've seen it go the other way.
Trout's father, Jeff, is a fit man, so that can't be a big concern here.
Both the scout and executive spoke on condition of anonymity.
Seeing Trout standing next to Albert Pujols gives some perspective. Trout is clearly bigger this year, but it's impossible to tell if the size will be a positive or a negative yet.
Bryce Harper didn't gain quite as much weight heading into 2013, rising from a listed weight of 215 to a reported 230 this spring. While almost no one relies on listed heights or weights—hello, Jose Altuve (anyone who has stood next to him knows he is shorter than his listed 5'5")—Harper doesn't look like he's added as much. While Trout is being described as a linebacker, Harper still looks lean.
Like Trout, Harper will shift to left field this season, which was part of the reason for the Nationals trading for Denard Span. The plan is to reduce the wear on Harper's young body by getting him out of center, but Harper is going to have a hard time slowing things down. He'll dive and run into walls, though the Nationals hope that part of his baseball savvy will be to avoid those things and stay on the field.
Harper's gain is also geared toward stamina, though many around the league say it's clear that Harper is expecting power gains. Stories about his offseason workouts are starting to turn mythical, with Harper hitting in the cage by 5:30 a.m. every day.
An NL advance scout thinks that power gain is coming:
That kid is still growing and that scares the [crap] out of me. He's ultra-competitive and I think he's going to do whatever it takes to put up huge numbers. He's not selfish, but he's competitive. Don't take this the wrong way, but he reminds me so much of Barry Bonds. He is going to outwork you before he outhits you.
Harper's value also isn't as reliant upon speed as Trout's. While Harper's weight gain isn't as extreme, his 18 steals last season don't reflect what most think he could do.
"He's 40/40," said the advance scout. "He just didn't wear himself down. Those steals will come and I guess some people will be surprised, but not anyone that ever watched him play."
With Harper, the weight is also likely to come off some during camp. Whether or not he can hold some of the weight through the first half of the season will be an indication of how he's managing his body through the grind.
Lance Lynn did the opposite of Trout and Harper. Lynn shed over 40 pounds this offseason, as well as his long hair and beard. Some of his teammates didn't recognize him at first glance, but Lynn's hope is that being in better shape will help him avoid the fatigue that ended his quest to win 20 games.
Lynn has always been a big guy, even during his high-school days in Brownsburg, just outside of Indianapolis. He wasn't fat, just big. He got bigger at Ole Miss, and then by the end of 2012, he was pushing the boundaries of big.
The Cardinals understood this and used a smart tool to help Lynn this offseason. The Cardinals are one of the very few teams to have a nutritionist on staff. Simon Lusky went to Lynn's offseason home and stayed for several days, putting together meal plans and even teaching him and his wife how to prepare new, healthier meals.
Lynn is confident that he'll be able to stay in the rotation for a full season now, but the Cardinals are in wait-and-see mode. They could use a 200-inning guy to replace the injured Chris Carpenter, but they'll also need someone in the slot Kyle Lohse left vacant.
How Lynn's weight loss will affect his stamina is as open to guessing as the weight gains of Trout and Harper.
Stories like these are best understood in retrospect. If these three young stars take big steps forward or backward, it won't be solely because of weight.
Then again, in a copycat sport like baseball, we may see a lot more people eating six hamburgers or asking for a visit from the team chef if Trout, Harper and Lynn end up with trophies or rings in 2013.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Will Carroll, a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has been writing about sports injuries and related topics for 12 years.
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