It seems as if the ripple-effect made by the Kendrys Morales trade has stretched farther into the roster than many might think. A lot of Angel fans were unhappy, or I could say outright pissed, that Kendrys was traded for some third-rate inning eating starter from the lowly Mariners. I mean, not only did the Angels trade away one of their biggest power bats for a mid-tier starter, they gave him directly to a division rival! Oh crap! Only thing is that move isn't as bad as people would like to think. This article isn't going to be another "analyzation" of the Kendrys trade by some college-aged wannabe sportswriter in his underwear, but I do want to talk about it a little to set up what I really have to say.
The biggest gripes Angel fans have had with the trade is that:
1) It takes away a potent left-handed power bat out of a lineup that was lacking left-handed power to begin with (prior to the Hamilton signing)
2) The short-lived idea of the Angels having a serious Murderer's Row with Trout-WhoCares-Pujols-Hamilton-Trumbo-Morales will no longer be a reality.
The idea of the Angels losing one of their more potent left-handed bats in Kendrys Morales would be a shocking concept to stomach if the Hamilton signing never happened, but that's just the thing, it did happen. Hamilton has a far more powerful left-handed bat than Kendrys does (Hamilton .566 SLG% vs. RHP as opposed to Kendrys .512 SLG% vs. RHP). Let's not forget Kendrys' ineptitude against LHP which is shown by his career .275 OBP against lefties in 370 AB's. Hamilton does not have the same problems against lefties as Kendrys does, as noted by his .350 OBP and .510 SLG% against LHP. The Angels effectively replaced Kendrys with Hamilton and Bourjos since Bourjos' playing time and future as an Angel were in serious jeopardy with the logjam that came with the Hamilton signing.
The Angels still have one of the most powerful offenses in the game on paper; you could even confidently say their lineup IS the most powerful in the game…..on paper. You can all stop complaining about the Angels trading their one of their weaker power hitters, Kendrys 22 HR/.467 SLG%/.787 OPS was at the bottom of the list of Angels power hitters out of Trout-Pujols-Trumbo-Morales while Trout topped that list with 30HR/.564 SLG%/.963 OPS. I don't count Hamilton in that list since he did not appear in an Angels uniform last season. The Angels had a serious hole in their rotation and a serious surplus in their lineup; it only makes sense to trade the weaker of the Angels power hitters to fill the hole in the rotation. I know it sounds demeaning calling Kendrys one of the weaker power hitters on the team given the fact that last season was just him rebounding from injury, but the fact of the matter is he was one of the weaker power hitters and trading him created no holes in the lineup.
Well….maybe just one teeny-tiny hole that will be filled with everyone’s favorite chubby Asian catcher. Hank Conger's biggest problem during his young career as a top catching prospect for the Angels has been his inability to seize opportunity. The first real opportunity came in 2011 when Conger filled the backup role behind Jeff Mathis, we all believed that would be the year we would be free of the horrors brought on by Mathis. Unfortunately, Conger floundered at the plate with his slash line of .209/.282/.167 in 197 PA's. The catcher of the future was nowhere to be seen, and Conger was sent back down to the minors, where he would unfortunately miss out on a massive opportunity to rebuild his value in 2012 after Iannetta broke his wrist during Weaver's no-hitter. Everyone assumed this would be Conger's chance to break through to the majors and make a serious mark on the league, but fate would have it that the often injured Hank Conger was nursing an injury of his own. During Iannetta's 3 month stint on the DL the Angels tried every catcher they had in the minors to fill his role, all incredibly unfulfilling. This time however, there is no one standing in the way of Conger, no injuries, no nothing.
The former primary backup catcher Bobby Wilson is no longer on the Angels and as of today Hank Conger has no injury issues to deal with that would stand in his way of taking the back-up role in spring training. The job will most likely be his and Conger fills a much needed role that Kendrys would have played, the part-time left-handed power bat. This past season with the Salt Lake Bees (AAA) Hank Conger posted a .488 SLG% against RHP with an .848 OPS and 7 total home runs in 201 AB's, as well as a .313 BA and 361. OBP. Conger has the power potential to hit 15-20 home runs a year, possibly even more if his development continues smoothly. That would more than make up for Kendrys lost bat, though it isn't as if the Angels need to make up for his absence with Hamilton on board. All the Angels need out of Conger is someone who can provide consistent drive out of the ball against RHP, both off the bench and during his two weekly starts or so. The only problem with this is Conger hasn't shown the ability to provide any consistency at the plate in the majors, though this is to be expected of any prospect that has had roughly 200 AB at the major league level through his age 24 season.
I'm guessing it's do or die time for the young catcher coming into his first serious season in the majors. I only say "serious" season because 2011 was more of a "let's give this guy a shot and see what he can do" type of season for the kid. Now though, now is the time to live up to the expectation’s he's built up for himself after being so patiently developed by this organization, especially after all the inconveniences experienced through his development. His constant injuries and inability to perform at the major league level have been the biggest problems for Conger, it seems to me like this is the season where he works through these issues now before the organization decides to part ways. I'm not expecting to start the season mashing the ball off the bench; I'm just saying he has a full season of back-up duties to develop into a potent part-time power lefty off the bench and during his occasional starts. Aside from Hamilton no other hitters on this team bring power from the left side of the plate, so having Conger as a back-up power lefty would be incredibly beneficial to this team. I only say power lefty because let's face it; he won't be getting very many AB's out of the right hander's batter's box this season.
Let's be real here, Kendrys Morales was not that potent of a power bat to begin with. By that I mean he did not drive the ball consistently at all, I don't feel like I need to defend that statement so vehemently since I'm sure all you Angel fans remember his inconsistencies quite fondly. I'll admit Kendrys did turn it up during the final months of the season, most likely due to his improving health conditions over the course of the season, but aside from the last couple months Kendrys did a lot of single-slapping when he wasn't bashing one of his 22 home runs throughout the season.
I believe that Conger can drive the ball on a more consistent basis than Kendrys did last season if he can finally get a hang of ML pitching. To me Conger projects more as a gap-to-gap power hitter than a smash-and-gasp power hitter, and that's completely perfect for this team. The Angels already have their home runs taken care of; they need guys who can round out the finer points of the team’s gameplay. That's why they traded Kendrys for Jason Vargas, and that's why Conger and Vargas round out this better than Kendrys.
You don't want to stack the building blocks too high on one end of the spectrum, that's when they become much easier to topple.