Kendrys Morales enjoyed a breakout season in 2009. Morales started the season without much fanfare or expectations, but finished hitting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs, with a .924 OPS. He set career highs in every offensive statistical category as he built an MVP campaign during the 2009 season, eventually finishing 5th in the voting. The switch-hitting slugger had stepped into the void left by the departure of Mark Teixeira via free agency after the 2008 season and looked to be the long-term answer for the Angels. Everything appeared to be in place for Morales to become a star at first base for the Angels and a force at the plate for years to come.
Things didn’t quite work out that way for Morales and the Angels. Early in the 2010 season, Morales hit a walk-off home run to beat the Seattle Mariners. During the celebratory leap onto home plate, Morales came down awkwardly and broke his leg, ending his 2010 season. Morales came back for Spring Training in 2011, hoping to get back onto the field and put the ugly bone break and ensuing surgery and rehab behind him, and return to the form that made him an MVP candidate. Swelling in his ankle, however, turned out to reveal complications in his rehabilitation, and Morales was forced to undergo a second surgery to clean out his leg, losing the 2011 season without ever taking the field. For 2012, Morales and the Angels are hoping for a different outcome.
“They already operated on me a second time and cleaned up my ankle and everything I had damaged,” Morales said. “I’ve been running for about four months, and I think by Opening Day I should be ready.”
An Opening Day lineup with Morales at the DH would be a welcome sight for Angels’ fans everywhere. The Angels are heavily reliant on Morales to be a power presence from the left side of the plate and to hit cleanup behind Albert Pujols to protect him in the lineup. Without him, the Angels face the same issues they have for the last two seasons: no left-handed power.
As a Kendrys Morales 2011 fantasy owner, I know all too well the promises of Morales “almost” being ready, as he spent last season languishing on the bench before finally having the surgery to end his season, so my first reaction is to act skeptically on this news. However, the more that comes out of Spring Training, the more it seems like this season will be much different from last year. The lack of swelling after running, the light physical activity for months leading up to this point, and the success of the second surgery at cleaning up the break all have a more optimistic tone than last year. Mike Scioscia has said he looks “great,” that his progression this spring will be “very guarded” and that all he needs is to run the bases at 100% and he’ll be cleared to return to the lineup. Even after he’s cleared, however, there will still be one major question left to answer.
How will Morales play? The slugger has been away from the game for nearly two full seasons, so it will be understandable to see a bit of rust, but how much will there be? How long will it take Morales to return to his 2009 form, or can he even return to that level of play at all? If he does, the Angels will immediately have one of the more dangerous lineups in baseball and the faith the team showed in signing him to the same contract he had last season will be repaid in full. With Morales at the DH in the cleanup spot, Pujols will have the protection he needs to see pitches and have a bounce back year from the worst season in his career in 2011. Much of the Angels’ success this season hinges on the left ankle of Morales and how quickly he can return to form, so here’s hoping we see more Morales of 2009 this season, rather than the 2010 writhing-in-pain Morales or the 2011 completely-absent Morales. I predict he will start the season slowly as he re-adjusts to the level of play he has missed out on the last two seasons, but will begin to hit his stride around the All-Star break and will be a major factor for the Angels in the second half. What do you expect from Morales and the DH position this year?