This is another in the series of “X Factor” posts we’re doing in conjunction with ESPN.com’s spring previews, the AL versions of which will go up sometime on Tuesday.
For a pretty old team, and one whose recent history has been nothing if not predictable, the Angels seem to have a whole lot up in the air right now. Dan Haren is coming off his worst year by ERA since 2006 (though he was brilliant upon making the move to the Angels); Ervin Santana seems to alternate decent years with awful ones, and is coming off one of those decent ones; the bullpen is just kind of a mess. But the one question mark that seems bigger than all the others right now is the status of the team’s first baseman and best hitter, Kendrys (formerly known as Kendry) Morales.
While never exactly a premiere prospect, Morales made top-100 lists in 2005 and 2006. He looked like something of a bust after his first three partial seasons in the majors, though, hitting just .249/.302/.408 in his first 407 plate appearances and not doing much in the minors to suggest he was a lot better than that. Then in 2009, at age 26, he took over the full-time job and hit .306/.355/.569 (139 OPS+) with 34 homers and 43 doubles — a performance which, coupled with pretty good defense, was good for 4.0 WAR, close to an All-Star level performance (though probably not justifying his fifth-place MVP finish). He was off to a similar start last year on May 29 — the power was down, but you might’ve expected that to jump back up as we entered June and July — when he managed to fracture his left leg while celebrating a walk-off grand slam.
Morales missed the rest of last season, of course, and now will start the 2011 season on the DL. It’s clearly a freak injury and didn’t figure to affect his long-term potential, but now that he’s still experiencing soreness ten months later, you have to wonder (or I do, as a complete novice as to all things medical) how long this will affect him, whether the soreness (in his plant leg when he bats right-handed, which is most of the time) will sap his power when he does come back, and how long it will take him to get back up into full game shape once he finally can play again.
While he’s out, Mark Trumbo figures to be the guy at first base. Trumbo is 26 and, even after tying for the lead among all minor leaguers with 36 home runs in 2010, failed to make Keith Law’s list of the Angels’ top ten prospects and placed 8th on Kevin Goldstein’s. Goldstein says his power is real, but that he offers little else. Considering he hit just .301 with a .366 OBP even in his big AAA year — and this was in Salt Lake of the Pacific Coast League, an exceptionally hitter-friendly environment — he could be a pretty big drain on the lineup from all the outs he’ll be making, despite the home runs. Minor League Splits’ Minor League Equivalency (MLE) Calculator suggests that Trumbo’s 2010 in Salt Lake would translate to a .244/.300/.448 line in the bigs, well below average for a first baseman (especially one that plays poor defense).
This is a team with very little offensive firepower even with a healthy Morales — the Angels’ biggest offensive strength, if they can be said to have one, is their lack of a gaping hole at any one position except catcher, where Jeff Mathis continues to exercise his threatening hold on Mike Scioscia’s mortal soul — and with Trumbo in Morales’ place, it goes from “uninspiring” right to “just plain weak.” The Angels figure to have trouble competing with the Rangers and A’s this season anyway, but if they’re going to do it, it’ll take a heavy dose of a healthy Morales to get them there.