Continuing our countdown of the most fantasy relevant Angels players in 2012, it’s only fitting that we come to our choice for number 13, Kendrys Morales, today as he gets set to get his first action against Major League competition as he tries to rehab in time for the start of the season. This will mark the first time Morales has taken the field against a live opponent in almost two years, since he broke his leg celebrating a walk-off home run early in 2010. Morales will fill the DH role for the team this season, and brings with him a laundry list of questions he’ll need to answer in regards to his fantasy worth. How will he handle real live pitching? How will his leg hold up? Is he 100% healthy? Will he still have the same swing and power as before the injury? And so on and so forth. Let’s try and answer a couple here to see if he would be worth a spot on your roster.
Morales hasn’t played a full season since 2009, which was his first as a regular starter, and it was a breakout season. The first baseman hit .306/.355/.569 with 86 runs scored, 34 home runs, and 108 runs batted in. He finished fifth in the AL MVP voting that year, and looked poised to become a superstar for the Halos for years to come. Then came that fateful game in the late spring against the Seattle Mariners, when Morales jumped onto home plate celebrating a walk-off bomb in extra innings and fractured his leg, ending his 2010 season. Morales pushed to make it back for 2011, entering Spring Training with the hope he’d get back into the lineup, but was derailed by complications with pain and swelling when he ran, resulting in another surgery that once again ended his season. The promises of his return left many fantasy owners (myself included) burned badly when they finally shut him down, as he had been collecting dust on the bench while owners waited for him to make it back and add some of that 2009 production to their lineups, so a certain level of trepidation is expected, but shouldn’t keep him off your radar completely.
By all accounts, Morales won’t fall to any of the setbacks that took him out in 2011 this spring. He’s run without pain, then ran the bases without pain, and has been gradually working towards a return to the lineup this spring, which he will finally achieve today against Kansas City. So, step 1, getting on the field, is a go, but what about his performace now that he’s out there? He’s been out of baseball for nearly two years while he rebuilt his leg…twice. How much rust on his swing can we expect? He’s missed 273 games because of this injury and if he shows signs of his layoff, you can expect any number of other designated hitter hopefuls, like Mark Trumbo or Bobby Abreu, to jump at the chance to steal some plate appearances from him. A good spring is going to be key for Morales if he wants to solidfy his spot as the DH this season.
Also hurting Morales’ fantasy value is the fact that full-time DH is the absolute BEST he’s going to get in this lineup barring some injury to Albert Pujols, who has thrown a logjam into most every position this offseason. That means Morales will see limited time, if any, during interleague play and it also makes him an easy choice for “guy who needs a day off to get Trumbo or Pujols out of the field for a day but we still want their bat,” which is still a vital role on this team, but not particularly helpful for fantasy. There aren’t too many full time designated hitters that are viable fantasy starters (David Ortiz, maybe?), and Morales has some questions to answer before we can even call him a full-time DH. He still has to fight off Abreu, who thinks he’s an every-day player still, and Trumbo, if he can’t find his third baseman glove in time for the season to start. The depth of hitting is great for the Angels, but it may be giving Morales a short leash to perform on. Projections are widely split on how well Morales answers some of these glaring questions.
- ZiPS: .274/.321/.455, 42 R, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 1 SB, 357 PA
- Fans: .286/.348/.474, 65 R, 20 HR, 67 RBI, 0 SB, 461 PA
- Bill James: .296/.341/.504, 69 R, 24 HR, 86 RBI, 1 SB, 539 PA
ZiPS has Morales playing in fewer than 90 games, so they don’t have a great deal of faith that he’ll be healthy to start or stay healthy throughout 2012. I’m a little more optimistic about his return, as he’s performed well in the physical tests the team has had him run through this spring. I doubt his legs will hold up for as many games as Bill James is projecting, but he’ll see the majority of the time from the DH spot. One thing that everyone does agree on is that he will take a slight step back from his 2009 stat line, which is reasonable.
The Hangout View: The biggest thing that will help to cushiom Morales’ return to the lineup is the depth of hitting that will be surrounding him. As of now, he’s slated to hit fourth in the order, behind Pujols and ahead of Howie Kendrick, two of the best hitters of the spring so far. Morales will get pitches to hit, and all he needs to do is show off that swing he’s been working with in batting practice out on the diamond during real games. Fatigue is going to get to him at some point, so expect the Angels to give him plenty of days off in order to save him for a late push for and run in the playoffs. The market for Morales will be tepid because of the playing time and health questions surrounding him, so keep an eye on him in the early stages of the later rounds. If he bounces back and benefits from hitting behind Pujols, as everyone usually does, then he could become the steal of this year’s draft and provide some good offensive production to your lineup.
- .285/.356/.490, 62 R, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 0 SB, 475 PA