Most of us remember that Josh Fields was supposed to be the heir apparent to Joe Crede as the long-term third baseman for the White Sox. While Crede suffered with a chronic bad back, Fields was being groomed to take his place. Well, so much for those plans. Fields went to Kansas City where he had hip surgery and never really played and he eventually landed with the Pirates in December. Now there is another plan for the guys from Chicago's south side.
Competition for the third-base job has narrowed to Mark Teahen, formerly of the aforementioned Royals and newcomer Brent Morel. Few know much about Morel, but he burst on the scene last fall as a September callup for the White Sox.
Teahen is a versatile player with the ability to play both corner-infield spots and the outfield. He is more known for his offensive prowess rather than his defensive work. Regardless of his versatility, Teahen was clearly to be the next third baseman when he signed with the White Sox last offseason, but late in May during a game at Tampa Bay, Teahen fractured his right middle finger. He didn't return to the lineup until mid-August. Unfortunately, his defense didn't live up to the White Sox's expectations and Morel entered the picture for a September look at the big league level.
I don't find Teahen to be as deficient at third base as I've seen him portrayed by some others. In fact, I'm watching the White Sox against the Rockies and Teahen made a beautiful play on a hard groundball to third that started a double play. He's just more inconsistent defensively than Morel.
Manager Ozzie Guillen had seen Morel play while watching his son's minor league team and he liked what he saw. As a result, Morel got an opportunity to play on the big stage.
Morel will be 24 in April. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-handed hitter is from Bakersfield, California. The White Sox selected him in the third round of the June 2008 first-year player draft.
Last season, Morel played at three levels; including Double-A (Birmingham) and Triple-A Charlotte before he was called up to the big leagues. At Birmingham, Morel hit .321 covering 203 plate appearances in 49 games. He scored 25 runs and drove in 30, while also stealing five bases. At Charlotte, Morel hit .320 in 324 plate appearances over 81 games with hit eight homers, 40 runs scored and 34 RBI. He also stole three bases. .231 in 70 plate appearances with three homers, nine runs scored and seven driven in along with two stolen bases.
When all is said and done, the White Sox feel they can live with whatever offense Morel may provide as long as he continues to play Gold Glove caliber defense. His decline in batting average from the minor leagues to the major league club is not alarming. The difference in quality between big league pitchers and the rest of the universe is huge. The quality of play on any major league club often provides a rude awakening for professional players. It takes adjustments, and those adjustments take time, so patience with Morel should be exercised.
Morel won the Arizona Fall League batting title in 2009 when he hit .435. It must be remembered that the AFL pitchers are usually guys trying to come back from injury or are players trying to get in some extra innings before the winter, so pitching is not the strong suit of the league. Still, Morel raised some eyebrows with his good contact and ability to hit the gaps for doubles.
While Morel doesn't project to be a home-run hitter, in general he makes good contact. He has the ability to recognize pitches, but there are times when he takes long and loopy cuts out of the strike zone. When he cuts down swinging at bad pitches his strikeout rate will decline. Recognizing pitches and gaining the discipline to lay off pitches that are difficult to hit comes with maturity and experience. In time, his power may develop and he could hit some balls out of cozy U.S. Cellular Field.
One hitting trait the White Sox like about Morel is his ability to bunt. Wherever he hits in the batting order, he may be called upon to sacrifice or bunt for a base hit. His compact swing also makes it possible for him to hit behind runners. So far this spring, Teahen is hitting much better than Morel. As of this writing, Morel is hitting .242 (8-for-32) and Teahen is at .474 (9-for-19). For his part, Morel is trying to hit his way out of the spring-long slump, but he has to be careful not to let his hitting interfere with strong defense.
Teahen is beginning to show the type of offensive potential Kansas City saw initially. As a result, Guillen wants to get Teahen at-bats regardless of where he plays, but Teahen wants to play third base. He wants to concentrate on one position and focus his efforts on his offense. His defense, however, just won't allow the White Sox to commit to him as a full-time third baseman. Again, inconsistent defense would be the last thing the White Sox need if they expect to contend in the AL Central. So, I look for Morel to play third regularly and for Guillen to find at-bats for Teahen somewhere else or make him available in a trade.
Dayan Viciedo, once thought of as a top third-base prospect for the White Sox has concentrated his efforts on playing in the outfield. That was before he broke a thumb in spring training. Now he'll be sidelined for another three-to-four weeks. However, if Teahen and Morel both falter during the season, Viciedo is lurking in the weeds.
I'm not confident Morel is the type of hitter to help much in fantasy at this particular time. I include him in my fantasy profiles because of his value in deep AL-only leagues. It's entirely possible he could become more valuable as he matures and learns American League pitchers. However, that will likely take some time. He'll get plenty of at-bats and he may catch fire for a period of time.
Unless something changes in the next two weeks, look for Morel to beat out Teahen to win the starting job. Anything can happen with the tandem of Guillen and general manager Kenny Williams at final decision time. However, the Sox sure like what they have seen of Morel so far. But they said that about Josh Fields. And Joe Crede. And Mark Teahen. And they're still looking for a third baseman.