Kendrys Morales is on the verge of returning to the majors after nearly two years of surgeries, recuperation and rehabilitation.  His broken ankle set the Angels franchise back significantly, but now the hope is that his return can be what pushes them over the top.  Can he overcome his long absence and produce like the slugger he used to be that the Angels so badly need?

Kendrys Morales

2011 Stats: n/a

2012 ZiPS Projections: 325 AB, .274 AVG, .321 OBP, .455 SLG, 42 R, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 1 SB, 3 CS, 62 K

2012 Bill James Projections: 506 AB, .296 AVG, .341 OBP, .504 SLG, 69 R, 24 HR, 86 RBI, 1 SB, 1 CS, 81 K

2012 CAIRO Projections: 347 AB, .283 AVG, .340 OBP, .496 SLG, 50 R, 17 HR, 60 RBI, 3 SB, 3 CS, 68 K

2012 PECOTA Projections: n/a

2012 MWaH Projections*: 425 AB, .272 AVG, .320 OBP, .450 SLG, 56 R, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 0 SB, 1 CS, 88 K

*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research

2011 in Review: What is there to review?  Kendrys did not play at all last season after needing to undergo another surgery on his broken ankle.  We were led to believe that he was going to be 100% for Opening Day in 2011, but that quickly proved to not be the case as Morales reported to spring training and whispers of him still having physical problems quickly followed.  Sure enough, his leg hadn’t healed properly and he had to go back under the knife, ending his season before it even began.

On the plus side, he did finally get the team to start spelling his name right, “Kendrys” rather than “Kendry.”  So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

Three Lingering Questions for 2012:

  1. Just how healthy is Kendrys and can he stay that way? He may have been medically cleared, but Morales still isn’t in the clear.  In the last week alone he’s been bothered by calf tightness and shin soreness.  Is he going to be plagued by nagging ailments all season long or will he be able to get in shape and work his way through it all?
  2. How much playing time can Morales handle? Or perhaps more accurately, how much playing time will the Angels allow him to handle?  They’ve handled his recovery with kid gloves, so one can only assume that they will continue to coddle him through the regular season until they are fully convinced that his surgically repaired ankle can handle the workload.  It also certainly doesn’t hurt that regularly sitting him will also allow Scioscia a chance to work other players like Abreu and Trumbo into the DH slot.
  3. What level of performance is he capable of? Getting healthy is just half of the battle.  Morales hasn’t faced live big league pitching in 22 months.  He can only get back up to speed by getting reps, but how many is he going to need to make up for all of that lost time?  Can he even get all the way back to his old form after such a devastating injury?

What to Expect in 2012: I wish I knew what to expect from K-Mo in 2012, but I don’t, nobody does.  That’s why all those fancypants projections listed up above or virtually meaningless.  There is no statistical system that can account for someone not playing for two years due to a shattered ankle.  I imagine that is the reason PECOTA didn’t even attempt to offer up a projection for him.

Angel management can say all the hopey-fluffy stuff they want about Morales’s recovery, but it is essentially meaningless.  Their optimistic comments are certainly a good sign, but Morales still has several hurdles to clear before the Angels can safely count on him to be a regular producer in the lineup, much less bona fide middle-of-the-order threat.  There are just so many seemingly basic tasks he needs to re-master to even begin to resemble the player he was pre-injury.

Facing live pitching is first on the list.  Hitting a baseball isn’t like riding a bike; you don’t just come back after a long hiatus and immediately begin raking.  He still has innate talent, but there is nothing he can do during his long layoff to keep him atuned to being able to hit a Felix Hernandez changeup or a C.C. Sabathia slider.  Heck, it is even going to take him some time to get re-accustomed to facing a Scott Kazmir slider after such an extended amount of time away from the game.

Once he does get his pitch recognition and plate discipline (which was never great to begin with) back up to speed, there is still no guarantee that he will be able to hit the ball like he used to.  After such a major injury, he is going to be changed.  Something as simple as his stride is going to be different than it was before as he unconsciously compensates for the damage he suffered.  That applies tenfold to his swing.  Nobody would be shocked if he unwittingly adjusted his swing to put less pressure and torque on his repaired ankle, especially with his right-handed swing.  Maybe he’ll swing more with his upper body and sacrifice some power.  Maybe he’ll change his stride and screw up his timing.  We just don’t know.

With all that said, this is still a preview, so I will give my best guess at how Kendrys’ season will unfold.  As my projection suggests, he is going to play a fair amount, but definitely not full-time.  That will mainly be a result of the Angels handling him with caution and sitting him once or twice a week so he doesn’t over do it.  He’ll probably also end up dealing with more of these smaller physical ailments that will cause him to sit for a few days at a time simply because as his body gets reconditioned to the daily grind of a big league season.  In all likelihood, Morales get most of his days off against left-handed pitching.  The right side of the plate has always been his weaker side and that is only going to be magnified by this injury since his right leg obviously plays a bigger role in that swing.

My biggest concern isn’t his availability though, that part is almost expected.  No, the major issue will be whether or not Morales can drive the ball.  The Angels have every intention of installing Morales as the clean-up hitter behind Albert Pujols, but that won’t play too well if Morales doesn’t have the requisite pop in his bat to justify his presence in that lineup spot.  Morales actually doesn’t walk very much, so without power, he’s suddenly not a particularly useful player.  He’s got quick hands and good contact skills, so he should be able to maintain a decent average, but if he is just slapping singles, then he probably shouldn’t even be hitting in front of Alberto Callaspo.

Hopefully though his power will come back and come back quickly.  My guess is that it will come back, but it is going to take some time.  I would look at Juan Rivera’s 2008 season after he broke his leg as an example.  The first half of the season, he struggled to get up to speed, especially in the power department.  But in the second half of the season, it all came back to him, his time, his stroke, his power.  Part of Rivera’s early struggles were attributable to sporadic playing time, so maybe Morales can move up the curve a bit faster, but expecting much out of K-Mo before the All-Star break is wishful thinking.  The second half though… look out, AL West.