More than any other major sport, rookies and prospects are coddled in baseball. The inordinate propensity for super-talented prospects to just up and become Paul Wilson for no reason has spooked teams into spending a lot of time figuring out how to expose their young prodigies to the cruel world.
The ideal practice? Platforming; which is a term used to describe how studios put indie movies in limited release, establish a strong word of mouth buzz and a good per-theater performance, before expanding its obligations and going into wide release full of momentum. It’s not a term I’ve ever heard used in baseball talk, but screw it, the White Sox have been platforming Brent Morel.
Morel built a positive buzz during 2010 smacking doubles and playing competent defense that earned him a promotion from Double to Triple-A, and was placed in a no-pressure situation of starting in a collection of meaningless games in a September call-up after the Sox had already been immolated by the Twins.
Most of all, thanks to, thanks to, thanks, 1,000,000 thanks to Mark Teahen, Brent Morel is really only asked to do one thing; defend the actual position of 3rd base. He earned raves aleady for doing not much more than that, and if he does earn the starting spot in 2011, he’s dead set to be thrown in the 9-hole–a spot formerly filled by Mendoza-line Gordon Beckham–in an offense heavily focused on the power in the middle of the order.
This is ideal because Brent doesn’t project to ever be a wonderful hitter, and certainly doesn’t seem like he’ll be hitting for any type of average early on. The only question is whether this arrangement, where Brent essentially can’t fail so long as he continues to be good at what he’s already good at, is based in reality. It’s one thing for Kenny Williams to say that Morel is good enough to start 4 times a week no matter his offense, it’s another thing for the team to stand by Morel when they under-perform and Brent is hitting under .200.
The disaster-case-scenario here is Brian Anderson. Anderson and Morel are different players, and given the bizarre way Anderson’s underwhelming career has played out, it’s safe to say that Anderson is very different from most players. Still, they enter under somewhat similar circumstances. Both players were being slipped in to fill out a team expected to contend, weren’t expected to do the heavy lifting on offense, and would both be able to flash good glovework even if their bats failed.
Anderson hit pretty terribly for the 2006 White Sox, finishing with a .649 OPS that sagged much lower at times, and even though his defense kept him at replacement level, he saw his plate appearances began to be siphoned away to fourth outfielder Rob Mackowiak as early as May, was bypassed in favor of deteriorating veteran in 2007 (Darin Erstad) and never landed a legitimate shot to become a regular ever again, and won’t know that he decided to pull a Sergio Santos despite lacking a plus-fastball.
Comparing Morel to Anderson isn’t really appropriate because Anderson
was a bust who couldn’t hit at the major league level, and obviously the
hope with Morel is that he can, The fear is the same though; the team fails to separate itself from the pack, Morel hits sub .700 OPS, and Ozzie, desperate to make a tweak to look like he’s doing something, sees replacing his worst hitter as the easiest fix to make, and Morel rots as a defensive replacement for the rest the season…maybe his career.
But that makes some troubling assumptions. First, it assumes that Brian Anderson was somehow a quality player despite never producing in multiple major-league seasons, and some crappy Triple-A years mixed in. Second, it assumes that the power-devoid Omar Vizquel could provide a convincing case to displace Morel, or that Mark Teahen will ever be allowed to play 3rd base again.
Mark Teahen has returned to the Sox this year boasting increased strength and a proven to be uh, decent bat, but the lack of trust the team has for him at 3rd prompted the flirtation with Morel in the first place. Vizquel earned eternal praise from management for filling in during the Teahen disaster, but if Guillen can’t figure to no lean on a 43-year old with diminished range and Juan Pierre-power, the mismanagement of Morel’s infancy is probably the least of the Sox concerns.
Players are ultimately responsible for their play, and ultimately to be a major
league position player, Brent Morel will need to figure out how
to hit major league pitching consistently. But in the limited time where Morel freaked everyone out by not being able to hit, he posted a comparable wOBA (.305) to both Teahen (.309) and Vizquel (.303). To blow this opportunity, to lower himself to the point where demands to be replaced, Morel doesn’t just need to to struggle, he needs to flame out to a degree he’s never approached in his career. To a degree where an average hitter with no fielding skills, or a miserly fielding with no power to speak of register as worthy long-term replacements. If that happens, Brent Morel the everyday third basemen was probably a fatuous idea all along
Eventually in platforming a film, the studio gains full confidence in the work and the response it generates, and gives it wide release to maximize its earning potential. It’s a risk for both the product and the financier, but it’s the only measure to take after a while where there’s nothing more to be proven at a smaller level. Brent’s been good–definitely not great–at every level until the most important one up to this point, and is now the most talented player at his position on a team that asks nothing of him besides competence.
There’s probably no situation where thrusting an unproven 24 year-old into full-time major league action is idea; because if there was, this would be it.
*Writer’s Note: This post is pretty rambling. It took me an absurd amount of time to finish, I couldn’t end it for the life of me, and I still don’t know what the thesis of this piece is, hence the ambiguous title. As frustrated as I am with the finished product, I’d be more upset to spend half a day on this and publish nothing. If you got something out of this, or if you didn’t, thank you in either regard, and I promise some shorter, better stuff.