12/06/11 11:02 PM EST
Scioscia: Spring Training true test for Morales
Angels get more dynamic with healthy first baseman in fold
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
But the club knows practically nothing about Morales' 2012 status.
For now, all the Angels can do is closely monitor his current activity in Arizona -- where Morales is swinging in the cages and lightly jogging -- and await the day he once again reports to Spring Training in hopes of effectively running on his battered lower left leg.
Manager Mike Scioscia said from the Winter Meetings on Tuesday that Morales will begin participating in baseball activities later this month.
But -- just like last year -- Spring Training will be the true measure.
"He can get into some baseball activities, he can look good in January as he starts to move around and run, and you get him on the field -- and that's a huge hurdle, to get spikes on and do things you need to do at first base," Scioscia said. "It's something we're not going to find out in December or January. We're going to find that out in February, March, and hopefully have him ready to start the season with us."
Morales broke out in 2009, fractured his left ankle while celebrating a walk-off grand slam the following May, was unable to run this past Spring Training and underwent a second season-ending surgery in June, with a recovery time of six months. The Angels have a fine first-base replacement in Mark Trumbo and are taking a much more cautious approach with Morales now.
Anything he gives them in 2012, the Angels believe, would be a bonus.
"Last year," Scioscia said, "we had such a confidence that he was coming back that I think we want to just tread lightly on this one and make sure that he's along before you start to get excited about it, and that's what we're looking at."
It's easy to do that when your current first baseman just finished second in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting.
Trumbo is still recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot -- one he nursed for at least the last month of the season and cut his 2011 campaign short -- before returning to baseball activities.
A wild idea, if both Trumbo and Morales are at the fullest of health, is to move Trumbo to third base. That allows Morales to play first, leaving Bobby Abreu at designated hitter and giving the Halos more pop.
Scioscia didn't close the door on that, at least.
"It's something that we wanted to move forward and see if it was going to be a possibility, but right now, it's tough to do until [Trumbo] gets his stress fracture healed and is able to go out there, and we can functionally see how he's going to move at third base and what it looks like," Scioscia said. "When he first signed [in 2004], he tried third base and struggled, but that was more in relationship to him just trying to get acclimated with playing infield. And when he went over to first base, he was struggling.
"Now, he's become a very proficient first baseman, and hopefully that comfort level -- catching a ground ball and the activities you need to play there -- will translate over to third base, to where he'll maybe be a little bit better than he was when he first tried it seven or eight years ago."
A lot of things have to happen before that's even a remote possibility. And most questionable in that aspect is the health of Morales, who will have to do what he couldn't last spring -- prove he can run at full speed.
Then, of course, he'll have to show that the time off didn't alter his proficiency at the plate.
Scioscia doesn't see that last part as an issue.
"There's going to be some adjustments he's going to have to make when you start to see velocity, but you're not talking about a guy that hasn't played in five years; you're talking about a guy that's missed a year and a half," the skipper said. "Sure, there's going to be some timing issues, but this guy is a hitter, and his skills are still there."
Asked whether top prospect Mike Trout would start the season in the Majors, Scioscia said the club is "going to take what's presented in Spring Training."
The Angels have Vernon Wells in left field, Peter Bourjos in center, Torii Hunter in right and Abreu at designated hitter. With that being the case, a feasable solution could have the 20-year-old getting some seasoning in Triple-A.
"In , when our offense was really firing on all cylinders, there were guys on the bench that you said, 'Hey, this guy could be in the lineup tonight and help us,'" Scioscia said. "So if we get back to that, that's going to help us as a team, and I think it'll make us deeper. But we don't have to make those decisions now."
In tune with that, another young player -- 23-year-old catcher Hank Conger -- could see some time as a reserve in the Majors, rather than continue to improve his defense at the Triple-A level in 2012.
Having Conger serve as the backup to Chris Iannetta, however, would involve trading Bobby Wilson, who is out of Minor League options.
"Hank's future is going to be based on Hank's performance," Scioscia said. "I don't think anything has changed from where he was. Hank is a guy that played. Even though he didn't have the experience -- he only caught  games in the Minor Leagues in his development -- he played at a high enough level to win some playing time at a Major League level. And I don't think anything changes. I think his future is going to be contingent on how he plays, and that's really all a player can ask for."
Iannetta was acquired from the Rockies in exchange for young right-hander Tyler Chatwood last week.
"I think Chris brings a great balance," Scioscia said. "He's shown a level of durability that we know is important. He's shown on the defensive end that he can relate with pitchers and do all the things a catcher needs to do when he's out there every day. From the offensive end, although maybe his batting average isn't something that's going to jump out, certainly his power numbers and his production numbers are there. He's going to be a threat in the batter's box."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.