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Trout making case for whale of a contract

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mike Trout, fresh off his second MVP-calibre season with the Los Angeles Angels, on Wednesday offered a frightening prospect for opposing pitchers to contemplate this offseason - he has room to improve.

The 22-year-old Trout, a unanimous choice as American League Rookie of the Year in 2012 and runner-up to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of Detroit as MVP, returned with a .323 average, 27 home runs, 97 runs batted in and 33 stolen bases.

"Lot of things you can improve on, like defensively - my arm strength, arm accuracy. At the plate, being more disciplined," Trout told Reuters in a telephone interview as he took time out from doing a promotion for sandwich chain Subway.

"More of the strikeouts this year have been for swinging at bad pitches as opposed to just looking at strikes.

"Try not to chase as much and just be patient," said Trout, who happened to lead the league in walks with 110 and had an on-base percentage of .432, second-best in the league.

"It's tough not to chase them. I'm getting myself out, sometimes, getting too big instead of being myself."

The 22-year-old Trout could well be the bridesmaid again in Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting after another stellar campaign from Cabrera, but the fleet-footed, power-hitter is philosophical about it.

"It's kind of out of my control. I just got to go out there and do my thing, put up some numbers and let the (sports) writers decide. It's fun and special to be part of the mix," said Trout.

"Miguel, you can't take anything away from that year he had last year and then this year to follow it up, it's something special. He's a great guy and fun to play against. You always root for a guy like him."

MASSIVE UNDERACHIEVERS

What has really frustrated him are the Angels' struggles (78-84) as once again Trout finds himself outside the playoffs.

After signing Albert Pujols to a massive 10-year, $254 million deal two years ago and adding slugger Josh Hamilton for five years, $125 million last year, the Angels were touted as World Series favorites only to fall short of the postseason.

"It's frustrating," Trout acknowledged. "Coming out of spring with high expectations, we were so good on paper but we were unable to perform this year. New guys, new faces.

"We started playing well in the second half, that's a plus for us, a positive thing to take out of this year and take to the spring."

Hamilton, who hit 250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs, and Pujols, who contributed 17 homers, 64 RBIs and a .258 average in an injury-shortened season, were massive underachievers.

Trout said the pieces are in place for a much better result. "I think we've got the team to do it," he said.

"Josh started swinging the bat a little better at the end of the year and Albert, being fully healthy is gonna be a big, big, big improvement from this year to next year," said Trout.

Trout said just having Pujols around has been valuable.

"I make in-game adjustments with Albert, I talk about hitting all the time with him," he said. "Having him on the team, a veteran guy, leadership guy, for me as a young guy it's something special and I'm taking advantage of it."

Trout's numbers dwarfed the production of the high-priced sluggers, but the comparison is reversed on the salary front.

By Major League Baseball's standards, Trout's $510,000 contract with the Angels is downright puny as the team elected to renew his rookie deal - worth a little more than $482,000 - giving him only $20,000 more than the league minimum.

"I just gotta go out there and keep playing. My time is going to come, that's the way I look at it," Trout said. "They own me for the next four years or so, we'll see what happens. I like it in Anaheim. Just got to wait and do my time.

"The first three years the team has you under contract the team can basically do whatever it wants. I just got to go with it."

Trout will not be eligible for salary arbitration until after next season, with free agency available in 2017 if the Angels do not lock him up with a long-term deal.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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