In a season when nothing seems to have gone as planned for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, one flawed prediction has proven to be a welcome surprise.
Center fielder Torii Hunter and third baseman Chone Figgins will likely represent the Angels in the All-Star Game later this month, but if you're looking for the player who has had the biggest impact at the Big A, look no further than first base.
In his first full season in the big leagues, Kendry Morales has quietly surpassed all expectations, both on the field and at the plate.
Southern California's pain could be seen from space when the Angels failed to resign slugger Mark Teixeira in the offseason. Big Tex provided the Halos with stellar defense and the power threat they so badly needed to pair with Vladimir Guerrero.
Without him, the team would have to rely on Morales, a star in the Cuban system but with hardly any Major League experience, to fill the role.
What a difference half a season makes.
In roughly the same amount of time, Morales is putting up nearly identical numbers to Teixeira during his run with the Angels last season. The difference is at 29, Tex has reached the height of his abilities, while Morales, at 26, will only continue to get better.
Through the first three months of the season, Morales has belted 13 home runs with 41 RBI. Teixeira had the same number of big flies for the Angels after the trade deadline last year, with only two more runs batted in.
So far this year, Tex has hit 20 home runs with 60 RBI, but keep in mind that he plays in New Yankee Stadium—where infield pop-ups turn into three-run bombs.
Give Morales the same setting and he'd just as likely be on pace for 40 home runs and 120 RBI. As it stands now, he should end up with 25-30 homers with 80-90 RBI, more than anyone could have asked for at the beginning of the year.
Morales is also leading the Angels in doubles with 22 and extra-base hits with 37 – oft overlooked stats that are vital to judging a player's intrinsic value. Toss in two triples and he's slugging a cool .527.
In the second half of last season, Teixeira had just 14 double and only 27 extra-base hits for the Angels. This year for the Yankees, big Tex has equaled Morales in doubles, has only five more extra-base hits, and owns an eerily similar .567 slugging percentage.
On the field, Morales has been nothing short of eye-opening. Not bad, considering the glove he had to fill.
Widely considered one of the best fielding first basemen in the game, Teixeira has been errorless this season, showing his usual great range while picking errant throws out of the dirt left and right. But last year, his glove failed him three times in 468 chances with the Angels.
Morales, on the other hand, came into the season with only modest expectations for his defense.
However, in 632 chances, he's only erred four times and is showing improvement with every game he plays, including a tremendous inning-ending pick of a rare poor throw by second baseman Maicer Izturis in Thursday night's game against the Orioles.
Mark Teixeira is an exceptional player, one of the very few who is actually worth his astronomical contract. But for a fraction of the cost, the Angels have found a player who has the potential to be every bit as good.
Kendry Morales has shown poise this season like few others in his position could, playing the game like a seasoned veteran, despite the fact that this is basically his rookie year.
When he gets a hold of a ball, he drives it with authority, and if he just learns to be a little more patient at the plate and wait for his pitches, he could be the second coming of Teixeira.
As of now though, Morales will have to settle for being the Angels' most overlooked all-star.