Brent Morel can take the stress off his bat with high-quality defense.
Third base was Brent Morel's job to lose entering spring training, and with a week remaining in the spring, Morel officially didn't lose it.
Ozzie Guillen removed what was left of the mystery by naming Morel as his starting third baseman, and Guillen seems to have a plan for the long haul:
"Obviously he's going to face tough ones, but I'm going to give him pitchers he can handle," Guillen said. "It's not fair to play Mo against the normal ones and the big boys come up and Teahen is in the lineup.
"Teahen will be here just for his offense. Moving around to different positions, it's hard for everyone. We don't expect him to be a Gold Glove. We expect him to do the best he can. There's no doubt if this kid [Morel] makes the ballclub, he has to play every day."
Morel, who went 2-for-4 in an 8-7 loss to the Cubs on Wednesday, has rallied to raise his spring line to .286/.317/.339. That's an empty average, but as I said before, he picked the right ways to struggle. The lack of walks and extra-base hits wouldn't stick out if you were watching him every other day, and averting strikeouts (five in 60 plate appearances) and errors help give the impression that he's not overmatched.
Teahen gave Morel all he could handle from an offensive standpoint, but defense took precedence, and Teahen simply can't compete. He hasn't been all that much with the bat either, but since he'll be replacing Mark Kotsay, he'll have some leeway in that department. Teahen wasn't a fan of utility work in Kansas City, but I'm guessing he can deal with it better the second time around. At least it's for a contender.Morel doesn't have many models for rookie success, because homegrown prospects have seldom been Plan A for the White Sox. Don't look at Guillen, though. He might have a reputation for sticking with veterans to everybody's detriment, but he has given the Opening Day rookies a reasonably long leash.
Brian Anderson is a popular comparison - in fact, he was in the lede of Mark Gonzales' account. There's some merit to that argument, but I'll go with a more recent example to calibrate our expectations: Chris Getz.
Getz seems to be a much better fit when charting Morel's course, at least in terms of billing. Getz didn't have a whole lot of hype, but he clawed his way up the depth chart in 2008, earned a September call-up, and then won Guillen's trust as a player who wouldn't suck (he made contact and ran the bases well).
Guillen stuck with Getz through a very uneven season. He let Getz bat leadoff even after he started the season 3-for-17, and Getz temporarily rewarded him with six multi-hit games out of seven before getting hurt for the first time on the season. He then lost most of his momentum, and Guillen sent him down to the bottom of the order.
Still, even with the injuries and uninspiring play, Guillen gave him 415 plate appearances. It helped that Getz only struck out 50 times, and he stole bases at a sterling rate (25 in 27 attempts).
The Morel we can plan for - mostly singles at the plate, few strikeouts, good defense and positive baserunning value - should allow him to keep his job the way Getz did. I don't think Morel will lead Guillen to believe he's a liability as long as he keeps making contact.
The expectations couldn't be more favorable. He might be close to Anderson in terms of what the Sox need from his bat (replacement level), but he has none of the baggage. Anderson had to replace a fan favorite and perceived linchpin of a World Series champion; Morel is sparing the South Side from one of its least favorite acquisitions. Once again, that's closer to Getz, who took Orlando Cabrera's roster spot. Cabrera served his role, but he not in a way that made people appreciate him.
Morel will have a good month to get acclimated, because any cold-weather offensive struggles will be pinned on the veterans. My gut says that Morel will survive the audition. Like Getz, he might have the Sox looking for an upgrade after the season, but he'll hit just well enough to keep the heat off him after the season heats up.