DETROIT — Mike Trout was 20 and Bryce Harper was 19 when they played for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League in 2011. Neither had set foot in the big leagues by then, but it was clear to Angels catcher Hank Conger, a Scorpions teammate, that both outfielders were destined for greatness.
"And in your mind, you're already thinking, 'Man, a couple years down the road, I'm going to be able to say I played with Harper and Trout on the same team.' It was pretty cool."
Trout and Harper, now two of baseball's brightest young stars, will oppose each other in the regular season for the first time Monday night when the Washington Nationals play host to the Angels.
"I shot him a text message a couple days ago — it's going to be fun to play against him," Trout said. "We both play the game hard. We're both trying to help our team win. It's good for the fans, obviously, but it's not going to change my game or anything."
Trout, the Angels center fielder, and Harper, the Nationals left fielder, have been linked for years, most notably by the volume of hype attached to them. Harper was 16 when he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, "Chosen One," and he was the first overall pick of the 2010 draft.
Trout drew comparisons to Mickey Mantle before he was picked in the first round in 2009 and was labeled "The Supernatural" by Sports Illustrated in an August, 2012, cover story.
Both were called up to the big leagues for good on April 28, 2012, and both won rookie-of-the-year awards that season, but Trout is the more accomplished player to this point.
Through Saturday, Trout had a .314 average, .403 on-base percentage and .549 slugging percentage in 353 career games, with 67 home runs, 209 runs batted in, 272 runs and 88 stolen bases. Harper had a .273/.353/.477 slash line in 273 games, with 43 homers, 122 RBIs, 176 runs and 29 stolen bases.
Many project Harper as the better pure power hitter, but Trout outhomered Harper, 30-22, in 2012 and 27-20 in 2013.
"Has he hit more homers than Trout yet? I don't understand that," said Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter, an Angels teammate of Trout in 2012. "It's all about what you do on the field, and Trout leads in every category. He's unbelievable. He does everything with ease. I haven't seen Harper hit like Trout yet."
Nor has Trout been yanked from a game for not hustling to first on a chopper to the pitcher, like Harper was Saturday against St. Louis.
Washington Manager Matt Williams cited Harper's "lack of hustle" and an "inability to run 90 feet" as reasons for pulling Harper, who said of Williams, "I respect what he did. It's part of the game."
Trout was surprised by the play.
"For me, I run everything out, but you never know what could have been on his mind," Trout said. "I know he's hurting with a tight quad, but that's the way they play over there; you have to respect that. I think he handled it the right way. He understood what he did, and hopefully he never does it again."
The first Trout vs. Harper showdown will draw extra media coverage — Sports Illustrated has arranged a photo shoot with the players for Wednesday — but neither seems distracted by extra attention, as Conger saw in Arizona in 2011.
"There were a lot of autograph-seekers hanging around, even in parking lots after games, and people constantly wanting to talk to them, trying to get a piece of them," Conger said. "They were spotlighted so much coming in, but for 19- and 18-year-olds, they were very mature in how they handled themselves."