I write this article just before every season. Each time I try and think outside the box to pinpoint the most important Angel since it isn't always the most obvious choice. This year, I tried to do the same thing but couldn't find anything outside of the box. No, try as I might, the answer I kept coming back to was Kendrys Morales.
Morales isn't the most obvious choice, that would be Albert Pujols. However, Pujols really isn't the most important Angel because he is such a known quantity. Barring an act of God, Pujols is going to be somewhere in between great and incredibly great for the Angels this season. We know this. What we don't know is just how good everyone around him is going to be.
With a starting rotation that is almost certainly going to be one of the league's best, the big challenge for the Halos will be to score enough runs to back up their awesome starting pitching. In other words, it is just like every other season since 2009. And what happened in 2009? Kendrys Morales had his breakout season and helped the Angels set a team record for runs scored in a season. I think you see where I am going with this.
The Angels need to score more runs than last season, probably a lot more runs. OK, maybe not a lot, but it definitely wouldn't hurt. Having Pujols in the heart of the lineup will certainly be a big step towards that end, but even he needs some help.
People are predicting a big year for Howie Kendrick, but he is coming off a career year, so how much bigger can his year really be?
Vernon Wells can't possibly be any worse than he was last season, but he also may not be all that much better.
Say all the nice things you want about Torii Hunter, but it isn't going to change the fact that he is 37 years old.
Maybe Mark Trumbo improves his plate discipline. Maybe he doesn't. The same goes for Erick Aybar. Even if they do, what is their upside? Can they evolve into All-Star players? I suppose they could, but A LOT would have to go right.
If you'll forgive the comic book metaphor, what people think the Angels have in Pujols is Batman and that they need to find him a Robin. The thing about Robin is that he was never a great hero. He definitely had his moments, but he is ultimately just a supporting character whose main task is to hold down the fort and wait for Batman to come in and save the day. There is a reason that there has been five different Robins and an even bigger reason that two of them have died (sort of, let's not get bogged down in nerdy details). What the Angels really need Pujols to be is Wolverine. Actually, Albert is a lot like Wolverine when you think about it. Both of them are seemingly indestructible and nobody really knows how old they are. But where they really compare is that Wolverine, as awesome as he can be on his own, has always fit in best surrounded by other top-notch heroes. Cyclops, Gambit, Colossus, Iceman, Cypher, Beast, Storm, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler and so on (one of those was a test). The X-Men had a number of heroes who, though not as transcendentally great as Wolverine, could save the world and carry a long story arc without Wolverine or anyone else so much as lifting a finger. That's what the Angels need Morales to be, a hero that can stand on his own two feet... literally.
Even with an iconic hero like Pujols leading this team, he is going to need a supporting cast that is more than just eight sidekicks. He needs a partner and Morales really is the only one with the talent to fill that role. Of course, we don't know if he can harness that talent anymore. As we all know, being indestructible is not one of Kendrys' superpowers.
Maybe his fractured ankle took too much out of him and he will never be the MVP-caliber talent he was before he got hurt, in which case he is just another Robin. In that case, the Angels are not doomed, but it puts an incredible burden Pujols. A full-strength Morales can be the difference between the Angels being a flawed contender and an invincible World Series favorite.
Of course, you knew that already, which is why Morales is such an obvious choice for most important Angel of the year. But at least I got to work in some comic book references. Totally worth it.
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Thats a lot of words to not say much of anything... I was excited when I saw the title... yeah Kendrys is the missing piece. His absence was the main reason the offence has cratered since 2009. The importance of his return while understated by most of the national sports media could well be the difference between a playoff team and a championship team.
While the offence set records in 2009, Kendrys was the most feared weapon by seasons end eclipsing Vlad. This year he will be surrounded with a better supporting cast. Kendrick and Aybar seem poised for huge seasons with Pujols and Morales forcing pitchers to groove more and more fastballs to them, thus fixing their plate discipline problems. Hunter and Wells seem poised for bounceback years as the top 4 (or 5 if Trumbo slides up the lineup) will take a lot of pressure off them and they can slide into powerful support roles. Trumbo and Bourjos showed so much growth last year, no reason to believe that growth wont continue. Finally there is Ianetta who is a high OBP guy with power in the place of a virtual offensive black hole. And thats just the offence.
On the pitching side you have an improved rotation with the Rangers ace pitching out of our 4 hole. Can you imagine just how CJ will dominate 4s and 5s all season? I dont see how he doesnt win 20 plus if he stays healthy. With the return of a healthy Jepsen, Downs for the whole year, a maturing Walden and some veteran arms in support, the pen is rebuilt.
But back to Kendrys... The rest of the league fans may not remember how feared a hitter he was, but Angels fans do. While the national media pretends the Angels are only one Pujols and one CJ Wilson better than last year, we know they are wrong... We expect improvements up and down the lineup. And we expect Morales to be a beast. Getting Kendrys back not only gives Pujols the best lineup protection he has ever had, it gives the Angels a 1/2 punch rivaled by maybe only Cabrerra and Fielder in Detroit... yeah Kendrys is our Fielder... and also the guy that changes everything.
I have said, and will continue to say, that the Angels will go where Kendrys Morales's bat will take them. I think the optimistic side of ALL of us has trouble going to sleep at night over the pure "5 year old on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus" excitement we have about this season. Just the thought of how potentially awesome this team can be this year is truly nothing any of us have seen before. Friends may say "they still have to play 162...don't get too confident"...sorry , too late - I have nothing but expectations of 100% DOMINATION this year...who's with me???
@azhalofan Totally agree with both of you. Morales is absolutely the missing piece of the puzzle. And an epic fail for me on the comic book test. I stopped reading X-Men when The King (Kirby) stopped drawing them.