By Alan Matthews
December 1, 2004
The long-awaited signing of Cuban sensation Kendry Morales neared finalization when the Angels and Morales agreed to terms on a six-year deal. The agreement was conditional on clearance from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The deal reportedly included a $3 million signing bonus and could be worth as much as $10 million including incentives.
Morales, 21, is a switch-hitting outfielder who has been considered the best post-revolution Cuban position prospect to defect.
“He’s a middle-of-the-order hitter that’s getting ready to play in the big leagues,” Angels scouting director Eddie Bane said. “He’s on the big league roster going into (spring) camp with a chance to win (an Opening Day) job.”
Morales, 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, has power from both sides of the plate, is an above-average defender with solid-average arm strength and fringe-average speed. He has advanced instincts and a good feel for the game. He profiles as a corner outfielder, but has also played first and third base.
Morales built his legacy as a teenager on Cuba’s 16-and-under youth national team and 18-and-under junior national team, where Angels international scouting supervisor Clay Daniel first scouted him.
In 2003, Morales batted cleanup for the Cuban national team in the World Cup in Havana. His grand slam helped secure Cuba’s 6-3 victory over Taiwan in the finals, and he also homered versus Brazil to give Cuba a dramatic comeback win during the medal round. He batted .391-9-42 that year for Industrialists in Cuba’s Serie Nacional (national league). In 2002, at the age of 19, he was the first teenager to star for Cuba’s national team since Omar Linares.
Unlike Linares, Morales defected from Cuba in June and eventually established residency in the Dominican Republic, allowing him to negotiate as a free agent. He had been banned from baseball in Cuba after failed attempts to leave the country; in fact, Morales was sent back to Cuba from the November 2003 Olympic qualifying tournament in Panama after making contact with an agent.
Daniel, along with international scout Jeff Schugel, had film footage and reports on Morales going back to 1999. Daniel and Bane spent five days with Morales at the Angels Dominican Academy in October, staying at a hotel in San Pedro with Morales and even dining with him.
“He’s good enough to play (in the majors) now,” Bane said. “It’s all the other things he has to overcome that have to be considered. The hardships with learning English and the culture shock of being a major league player, while it’s a lot different than it once was, are still things that he has to deal with.”
Other Cuban players have struggled with those issues after defecting. The list of Cuban success stories doesn't extend far beyond the brothers Hernandez, Orlando and Livan. High-priced flops such as Jose Contreras, Jorge Toca, Rolando Arrojo and Andy Morales are more the rule than the exception. Those failures, however, helped make Morales' pricetag reasonable for the Angels.
One of Morales’ agents, John Mano, said his client signed with the Angels over two other clubs–believed to be the Mets and Yankees–because the Angels offered the best opportunity to play in the big leagues right away.
Bane said Morales performed well in workouts with several clubs in the Dominican, including the Yankees, when he singled, doubled and tripled in an instructional league game. However, Morales was ambivalent about his standing with the Yankees following the workout.
“He didn’t know how he did,” Bane said. “It bothered him when he left there not knowing what they thought of him, is what he conveyed to us,” Bane said.
He made his debut Wednesday with Estrellas of the Dominican Winter League in a 13-6 loss to Licey, going 1-for-4 with an RBI single as the DH.