Morales a testament to Gomez's legacy
Beloved Angels executive nurtured rapidly rising slugger
ARLINGTON -- The late Preston Gomez was one of baseball's most respected talent evaluators, with good reason.
The man rarely swung and missed.
One of Gomez's greatest hits is a young man from Cuba, carrying on in the tradition of dynamic baseball players from the land that gave the baseball world his mentor.
Gomez, in his role as consultant to Angels general manager Tony Reagins, was bullish on Kendry Morales, a young switch-hitter with power searching for a role, a position, since signing in 2004 after his 13th attempt to escape his homeland was a success.
A few months after Gomez passed away in January at age 86, Morales settled in at first base and -- just as the sage had predicted in private conversations for several springs in Arizona -- has emerged as a rising star.
Just a few days before he suffered serious head injuries after being struck by a truck at a gas station returning home to Southern California from Arizona in March 2008, Gomez sat in the stands at Tempe Diablo Stadium, taking in spring exercises.
A hat shielding him from the sun, the game's gentleman ambassador ran down the reasons why he saw potential greatness in Morales.
"He has power from both sides, and a very strong arm," Gomez said. "He's a very good athlete with good instincts on the field.
"Kendry needed some time to get comfortable in a new country; it did not come easy for him. But he is improving all the time, and I think he'll be a very good player -- with a chance to be a great one -- in time. It depends on how hard he works at it, and opportunity. I think he really wants to be successful."
The exit of Mark Teixeira, moving to the Yankees as a free agent, cleared first base for Morales. He was solid in the first half before erupting after the All-Star break, putting up power numbers comparable to those of Teixeira at a fraction of the cost.
By September, it was clear Morales' first full season with the Angels was a smashing success. His breakout August -- featuring a club record 33 RBIs for the month -- culminated in his selection as American League Player of the Month.
"When you're talking about the potential of young players," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "there's always the unknown. Out of all the guys coming through our organization, I don't know of anybody who carried the potential Kendry does.
"He's been as consistent as any young player getting a shot to play every day as I've seen. If you look at the where his game has gone in four years, he's made a lot of progress. This guy worked his tail off with [Minor League infield instructor Rob] Picciolo on the lower fields [in Spring Training], and he's gotten better for it and turned himself into a better defensive player."
With the money saved in allowing Teixeira to sign elsewhere, the Angels were able to sign closer Brian Fuentes, left fielder Juan Rivera and right fielder Bobby Abreu.
As in the tragic case of the late Nick Adenhart, Gomez remains a presence with the organization, carrying his memory on their sleeves.
The Angels have worn black "PRESTON" patches, home and road, all season.
"When I got here," said Morales, who shared Cuban ancestry with the late Gomez, "there was a man that everybody talked about, a respected baseball man -- and that was Preston Gomez.
"We talked a lot and he more or less showed me how things worked over here. I hadn't adjusted 100 percent, and he helped me all the time."
Behind closed doors, in meetings with Scioscia and Reagins and other club officials, Gomez championed Morales' future impact.
Gomez continued to nurture Morales personally and guide him professionally until he was injured on March 26, 2008. His death, after a valiant fight, came 10 months later.
"I was in the Dominican when I heard about [Gomez's passing]," Morales said. "I felt the loss. I know everybody in the organization felt it. He was like family to us.
"Now that he's gone, you think about how he was as man and how he helped me. He was a very humble man. A good person, a good friend."
And a talent scout with few equals.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.