Seeing Adam Dunn and Alex Rios in the Opening Day lineup isn't going to feel great. It'll be a firm reminder that contracts can dictate batting orders, even in extreme scenarios. The only thing that can stop it from happening is 18 Brent Lillibridge Spring Training home runs. Swing for the fences, Brent!*
But skimming through the Brent Morel is soooooo chill now that he's no longer a rookie article on the White Sox website, I was struck by the fact that Brent Morel is the absolutely unquestioned 3rd base starter next year. He was so before any of the off-season trades, his standing isn't controversial in the least, and there's not even a whisper of some Cuban 3rd basemen with a quirky promo video taking his spot at the last second. That's interesting, seeing as Brent Morel wasn't particularly good last season.
Don't believe me? It's there in the article that's pumping him up!
Morel's stellar defense never was a question, but he added a .245 average, 10 home runs and 41 RBIs from the bottom of the order.
Those aren't good numbers! Not at all! The league-average batting average was .258! The average AL hitter would have 11.84 HR in the same amount of plate appearances Brent Morel received, and he can't be very good at getting on base if the author chose to quote his RBI while acknowledging he hit out of the #9 slot, which would inherently depress his total. Brent Morel really made Scott Merkin work on this one.
To use the stats that I prefer to assess Morel, he hit .245/.287/.366 for a 73 wRC+ in 444 plate apperances. That's pretty poor, especially considering as it's propped by his crazy September run. He was sitting at .250/.271/.317 on August 31st.
That September is reason for hope, along with the fact that Morel is young (25 in March), and inevitably progressing and learning. Right now, he is learning. Brent Morel is sitting outside the house of a random AL Central starting pitcher's house right now and studying his tendencies.
The belief that Morel cannot do anything besides step forward with his hitting while already being a strong fielder, will be the primary reasons stated by any team official--provided said team official is not caught by surprise in the parking lot while on their way home--when asked why Brent Morel is prohibitive favorite to be the Opening Day 3rd basemen.
The real primary reason is that Morel is running unopposed. There is no other 3rd basemen on the 40-man roster. His chief competition to be 3rd-basemen of the future--Dayan Viciedo--was moved off the position, and has right field to worry about. Osvaldo Martinez is listed as the backup 3rd basemen on the team depth chart. Osvaldo Martinez has played a single inning at 3rd base in the major leagues, he's played 18 games at 3rd base in six minor league seasons. Osvaldo Martinez is a shortstop, and not really competing with Brent Morel.
Don't look at the depth chart anyway. The depth chart has Alex Rios listed in centerfield and Alejandro De Aza in left. The depth chart has Jake Peavy as the 5th starter. HAHAHAHA the depth chart has Adam Dunn as the 4th string 1st basemen behind Viciedo and Lillibridge. The depth chart still has Jason Frasor on it. The depth chart is effin drunk, man.
Getting back to his actual performance, Morel struggles early in 2011 seemed to have an easy explanation. He was very aggressive, walked pretty much never, and while he was very capable at making contact at the major league level, it was mostly weak. A lot of infielders make due with such an approach--Orlando Cabrera just retired after a 14-year career with it--but Morel was operating in the extremes; he didn't get his first walk until May 30th, he was stuck on 1 HR until August 9th, he only collected on extra-base hit in the month of July. That's not enough.
In September, it all flipped. He walked 15 times in 103 plate appearances, which was twice as many walks as he had the rest of the year. Morel clubbed 8 of his 1o home runs on the year, and even struck out a shade more. All at once, he became a patient, discerning slugger who swung hard for fly balls.
It was great!
You'd take a 3rd basemen who hits .224/.340/.553 all the time! He'd probably be an All-Star! You wouldn't even have to explain his .224 batting average to stat traditionalists because they'd be too busy going "Oh sweet, dingers!!!" The only problem is that's not Brent Morel.
Like most players not named Mike Caruso, Brent Morel progressed through the minor leagues by dominating each level, and the approach he displayed in September is not what he used. He got through by hitting .320 at almost every level, pretty much never walking, and smacking a lot of doubles. Despite his huge averages, he never broke .500 in slugging until his final year in Triple-A.
Now, not every 30 HR hitter goes through the minors hitting 30 HR at every level, power doesn't develop that way. Players are young, they get stronger as they age and their hitting approach is ever-developing. But Morel was drafted out of college, he progressed through the minors with a fairly consistent identity, and it was pretty much a more successful version of the player he was for the first five months of 2012. He swung a lot, made a lot of contact, and sprayed the ball all over the field...just a little bit harder.
Because of that dichotomy, a read on Morel is hard to find. His absolutely terrible start can be attributed to the troubles of breaking into the league. He desperately need an injection of pop and patience, but it finally came in extreme doses, and condensed within a month. Such a stretch is easily dismissed as "fluky" or "small sample" or "WTF was that?!?!". Without that month, we'd be left wondering how the White Sox could even justify bring Morel back as a starter at all, and it might need to be thrown out as statistical noise. Then again, there's a lot of guys that it's hard to objectively justify bringing back on the 2012 roster, that the White Sox are just sticking with due to a lack of financial flexibility and organizational depth.
There's been a lot of talk about how the White Sox filling lineup slots with guys they can only hope will produce, and it's hard to decide whether or not Morel belongs in that group too. Smart money would have him improving moderately and moving toward the destiny of an average-ish hitter that has been projected for him, but without a real glimpse of him having success with his traditional method--high, somewhat empty average--it's a blind guess.
We don't really know Brent Morel at the plate. But here, kid, here comes 600 plate appearances with your name on it, waiting for you under the tree. Open it, it's all yours. Really, all yours. Your brothers were all sent to boarding school forever, and there's no one to split this present with.
So one of the thrills of 2012 will be the possibly never-ending process of figuring Brent Morel out. Since I had a Twitter follower suggest he'd been the easiest player on the team to make disappear with no one noticing, and an SSS-commenter last year called him "The Least Interesting Man in the World", maybe that won't put the butts in the seats, but it's something to watch. Brent Morel's bat patiently waits until you're not busy, and politely asks for your attention.
*as if he wouldn't