Morales in running for AL MVP Award

Morales in running for AL MVP Award

ANAHEIM -- Few players in the Majors were as productive in 2009 as Angels first baseman Kendry Morales, who batted .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs, finishing second in the American League in slugging, tied for fifth in RBIs and sixth in total bases.

Morales' booming bat and adept defense at first base vaulted him into consideration for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Results will be announced by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Monday.

If he felt any pressure in replacing Mark Teixeira, Morales never let it show. He was as cool and as poised as a 10-year veteran, belying his limited experience at the Major League level.

It was a remarkable journey for the man from Cuba who had finally succeeded on his 13th attempt to flee his home country in June 2004, reaching the shores of Florida and then establishing residence in the Dominican Republic when the Angels signed him six months later.

Morales' story is an ongoing tale of prevailing against long odds.

In April, there were many insiders who wondered how Morales could possibly replace Teixeira. By August, Morales was being mentioned by his manager, Mike Scioscia, as an AL MVP candidate, right alongside Teixeira, the Bronx Bomber, and the likes of Joe Mauer and Derek Jeter.

Morales' emergence from role player to star was one of the headline stories of the season for the AL West champion Angels.

A part-time player with occasional flashes of brilliance for three years, Morales put it all together in '09.

Morales had a solid first half and then exploded after the All-Star break, claiming the AL Player of the Month Award for August when he drove in 33 runs in 28 games with 10 homers, batting .385 and slugging .734.

"I told myself that if I could drive in 80 to 85 runs and hit about 25 home runs, I'd be able to help the team win," Morales said. "But, thankfully, I've gone beyond that -- and now I can't look back because I'm not done yet."

Morales is as proud of his glove work as the loud noises his bat has made.

"I've spent as much time working on my defense as my hitting," he said. "Earlier this season, it took me some time to get the timing back out there. But once the season has progressed, it's gotten easier, because I've gotten to know the hitters and our pitching staff.

"Right now, I feel good defensively."

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."

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 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 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.

"It takes time for any player, but the talent was there. We could see that."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.