Before the 2009 season, Kendry Morales was the much-hyped prospect from Cuba that was stuck first behind Casey Kotchman, and then Mark Teixeira at first base. With Kotchman traded for Teixeira, and the Angels unable to resign Tex after the 2008 season, it was up to Morales to give the Angels a solid, power bat at first base. As everyone knows, he delivered better than most anyone would’ve realistically expected him to.
Morales had seen playing time with the major league club, registering over 400 Plate Appearances between 2006 and 2008, though he only compiled a .249/.302/.408 line, which is not exactly impressive for 1B. The following 622 PA’s changed all that, when Morales put up a .306/.355/.569 line and finished 5th in MVP voting. While not the most valuable player the Angels had last season (that title goes to the departed Chone Figgins, unfortunately), Morales was clearly a big part of the offense. This season, with Figgins gone north to Seattle and Torii Hunter coming off of a career year, he’s going to have to play an even bigger role. The question, of course, is if he will repeat his numbers, or will regression sink it’s nasty teeth into Morales’ 2010 numbers?
Every single projection system FanGraphs lists (Marcel, ZiPS, Bill James, CHONE, The Fans) have Morales showing signs of regression this season. They disagree some to what degree it will happen, but none of the five have his AVG, OBP, SLG, or wOBA as high as they were last year. ZiPS is actually most pessimistic on him, projecting Morales to a .287/.333/.485/.353(wOBA) line, along with shaving a full 13 HRs off his total from last year, leaving him at 21 HRs for this season. CHONE also predicts a .353 wOBA for Morales, though it expects 22 HR from him this season. If either of these come true, Morales will likely turn into more of a 3 win player, instead of the 4.2 WAR he put up last year.
Fielding is another area that will be interesting to watch Morales in. In 2009, he surprised many by posting a 4.9 UZR, good for tops among all 1B in baseball. It was not entirely out of nowhere, given that he posted a 6.7 UZR in just over 450 innings back in 2006, but when people talk about Morales it tends to be his bat, and not his glove they focus on. 1B isn’t a major defensive position (which is why guys like Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder are playing it), but good defense is always better than bad defense. If this is the real Morales it could help out on the right side of the infield, since neither Kendrick nor Izturis are exactly wizards with the glove at 2B. My gut says he doesn’t repeat the 4.9 UZR in 2009, but he will stay easily in the positives, more at 4.0 or so. For what it’s worth, CHONE and The Fans have him at 3.7 and 3.5, respectively, in 2010.
What will Morales do with the bat? I’d be lying if I said the pessimism in all the projections doesn’t worry me, though I think Morales may have the ability to outperform them. It’s entirely possible some of that is the fan in me talking, but I don’t feel quite as bearish on Morales as the projections do. Regression will show itself in his numbers this year, I have little doubt about that, I just think (or hope?) it won’t be as severe. Going with the My Gut Projection System, I’m saying Morales will finish 2010 with 28 HR and a .295/.347/.535/.369 line, and a UZR at or right around 4.0. If he isn’t able to hit this, though, and the projection systems are more in line with his actual output, it could turn into a very long season for both the young Cuban, and Angel fans that have to watch him.