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Morales eager to build on '09 success

Morales eager to build on '09 success

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kendry Morales made his first appearance in Angels camp on Wednesday, looking fit and clearly eager to get started in the afterglow of a blockbuster 2009 season.

With Opening Day a month away, he expressed confidence that he'd be in top form when the Twins arrive at Angel Stadium on April 5.

"The responsibility is always the same every year," Morales said. "That's not a problem."

He was on the field with his teammates, handling ground balls at first base and taking cuts in the batting cage under the watchful eye of manager Mike Scioscia in the morning sunshine at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Morales' late start was a simple matter of U.S. Immigration paperwork running its natural course. A native of Cuba with a residence in the Dominican Republic, he applied for his visa on Feb. 3, having had to wait a year and a day after his 2009 document expired in accordance with the law.

"I was waiting for the visa paperwork to come through," Morales said through the translation of Angels video coordinator Diego Lopez. "I'm happy to be here, ready to work."

Morales changed agents over the winter, leaving Hendricks Sports Management for Scott Boras, after an incident reportedly involving the disappearance of money from his Florida bank account.

"It was a little difficult winter," Morales said. "Everybody knows what happened. I couldn't stay with those people. There are things related to the case I can't say anything about."

The switch-hitting first baseman, fifth in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting after batting .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs, said he has been working out on his own in Arizona since Feb. 22.

"I've been running and going to the gym to stay in shape," he said, adding that he began his offseason workouts in Florida in early December.

"I took three weeks off [after the season] and started a strict routine. I knew I wasn't going to play winter ball, so I had to get ready for Spring Training."

Morales tore up Dominican Winter League pitching after the 2008 season in preparation for his big opportunity to start at first base with the Angles following the departure of Mark Teixeira to the Yankees as a free agent.

It was around midseason that Morales began to put it all together, hammering the ball from both sides of the plate in the second half while improving and growing more confident defensively throughout his first full season.

"I feel comfortable, and I hope I'm going to be able to produce," he said when asked about the pressures of matching his brilliant '09 season. "But I'm not satisfied.

"I want to get better every day. It's my job to help the team win every day."

Finishing Kick
Period AB AVE OPS HR RBI
1st half 299 .284 .867 15 49
2nd half 267 .330 .989 19 59
Totals 566 .306 .924 34 108

Taking the advice of Bobby Abreu and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, who stressed the value of being aggressive with a plan, Morales became a bigger threat with runners on base as the season evolved.

"He's very aggressive," Abreu said, welcoming his buddy back with open arms. "One of the things I was talking to Kendry about was that it's good to be aggressive, but you have to be patient at the same time. Sometimes they're going to pitch around you, and you have to wait for your pitch.

"He has power all over the place. He can drive the ball anywhere. In the second half, he was different from the first half. He was more consistent in every at-bat and more confident.

"This year is going to be outstanding for him, too. This year he knows what he is capable of doing and what we've been talking about."

Scioscia was relieved to see his big first baseman back at work and didn't seem to think it would take long for Morales to find his form.

"Obviously, it wasn't ideal," Scioscia said. "He missed a lot of prep work that's important, especially PFP [pitchers' fielding practice]. We'll get him caught up, get him acclimated and get the stiffness out. It doesn't matter what you do in the gym in the offseason; you're going to get stiffness.

"Hopefully, we'll have him playing games in a week."

Scioscia watched Morales, 26, erase any and all doubts with his tremendous season, playing 152 games while replacing Teixeira, one of the Majors' best players.

"What Kendry showed us was he was able to bring that talent to not only a game, but to a season -- and maintain it for a year," Scioscia said. "That's always important for a player. He certainly played to his potential.

"His expectations are high. He's very confident in what he can do. The numbers might not always add up to the same, but he's going to shoot for consistency. As a young player, you want to keep churning it out. He has the ability to do it for a long time.

"He's driven, because he knows the challenge in front of him. After you've done it for a year, there's always going to be the challenge to do it again."

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

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }