Morales 'putting it together' on the fly
Scioscia trumpets growth by Angels' breakout star
ANAHEIM -- Kendry Morales' growth as a hitter can be measured in hard numbers: .306 batting average, 34 homers, 108 RBIs, .569 slugging percentage.
It also can be viewed in subtle refinements and adjustments that have made those numbers grow from ragged shrubs into tall, majestic trees.Angels manager Mike Scioscia has observed these improvements on a daily basis. The product he sees now in the batter's box and at first base in no way resembles what he was watching not that long ago. "Night and day," Scioscia said. "Kendry always had the tools, the potential, but he had a lot of work to do. Now, he's putting it all together." Morales delivered handsomely in a big moment in Game 1. His RBI single in the seventh inning enabling the Angels to recapture the momentum after a double-play grounder had seemingly taken Boston out of a big jam. "He went with a pitch to left field," Scioscia said. "A lot of things came into play, and his aggressive baserunning got us a run [on a throwing error]. He's done it a lot this year. The experience has helped him. You're not going to knock in 108 runs without knowing what you're doing up there. "He hit a bullet right-handed, too, that [shortstop Alex] Gonzalez dove for. His right-handed swing came alive in the second half of the season. That's important." Finding his stroke from his natural right side -- he began switch-hitting at age 12 -- enabled Morales to play every day after sitting against most lefties early in the season. As impressive as he's been offensively, Morales has been just as valuable with the glove in the manager's view. With the thick, muscular frame of a fullback, Morales has been remarkably nimble and adept with the glove, turning what some feared would be a negative into a plus in the wake of Mark Teixeira's departure.
"Kendry is athletic and aggressive down there, and he's got good hands," Scioscia said. "He's done a terrific job."But it's his booming bat that has made headlines, lifting Morales very quickly into the elite class of sluggers in his first full season. "That progression started four, five years ago," Scioscia said. "Kendry was very raw when he signed [in December 2004] and came to us. He was instructed in the Minor Leagues and played winter ball with the need not to sit back and take pitches, but to be selective and watch how pitchers were trying to get him out.
MORALES' '09 STATS
"It takes time for any player, but the talent was there. We could see that."Before Teixeira elected to enrich the Yankees for eight years, Morales spent three seasons on the Salt Lake shuttle, going back and forth from Triple-A to the Majors. He had one extended opportunity to show what he could do in 2007, primarily as a designated hitter, and the results were impressive in 119 at-bats. He batted .294 with a .479 slugging percentage. Yet, there was little in his 2008 performance -- .213 average, .393 slugging -- in 61 at-bats with the Angels to identify Morales as the kind of performer he has become. This is where Bobby Abreu enters the conversation. Abreu has been given considerable credit for enhancing the awareness and situational abilities of a number of teammates -- and it is something he clearly has earned. "Bobby is a quiet, easy-going guy," Torii Hunter said. "But he can get on a guy when he needs to, and I've seen him do it with Morales." In his mentoring role early this season, Abreu was forceful in stressing the need for Morales to relax with runners in scoring position, channeling his aggression into a more positive reflex by laying off pitches he couldn't expect to drive. It sounds simple, but when you're 26 and trying to impress your boss -- and the world -- with what you can do, the impulse to go after anything close to the strike zone is strong.
"I just made him aware of how much easier it is to hit when you get something you like," Abreu said. "You don't have to swing at the pitcher's pitch. Wait for the one you want."Before the All-Star break, Morales batted .284 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs in 299 at-bats. Nice numbers, but not star quality. After the break, those numbers rose to .330, 19 and 59 in 267 at-bats. Star quality. With runners in scoring position, Morales batted .315 after struggling early in the season. "Bobby, with his discipline to not be afraid to get deep in counts and keyhole a pitch to drive, some of that has helped Kendry," Scioscia said. "You can see it in Kendry's approach now." Turning a question mark into an exclamation point, Morales has been as instrumental as anyone in the Angels' success this season.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.