Brent Morel drew a walk on Tuesday night. This used to be an event worthy of ALL CAPS, but the novelty has started to wear off during his push for double digits in the "BB" column.
Relative to his first four months, he's turned into a regular Warren Newson in the past three weeks:
First 90 games (309 PA): Four walks
- Last 14 games (52 PA): Five walks
Along with the walks, Morel is beginning to use the left side of second base more over this recent minor tear (eight hits in his last 25 at-bats). He hit a homer against Brad Penny, but it looked like he made better contact on his roped double off Justin Verlander. Likewise, he drove in De Aza with a scorched single past Trevor Plouffe at short on Tuesday. Rank them however you want, but the end result is an unprecedented cluster of hard-hit balls.
Add it all up, and Morel boosted his OPS all the way to ... .608.
This number represents Morel's glass ceiling. He peaked on June 7 at .613 ... followed by a popless month. He rebuilt his OPS past .600 on Aug. 11 ... then went 0-for-14.
This has been the theme of Morel's season, and he has three weeks to smash through the barrier. His September is more important to his personal future than any of his teammates.
Among AL hitters with at least 350 plate appearances, Morel has the fifth-worst total of batting runs above average. That's bad enough, but the bigger problem is the company he keeps (totals prior to Tuesday's games):
- Alex Rios: -26.4
- Adam Dunn: -19.4
- Alcides Escobar: -19.4
- Aaron Hill: -17.4
- Brent Morel: -16.5
- Gordon Beckham: -16.5
Yes, the White Sox have four of the league's worst hitters in their everyday lineup. That's why we wanted Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo involved six weeks before they were. That's the epitaph on the tombstone. It's managerial and organizational negligence, plain and simple.
The problems extend well beyond Morel's jurisdiction. Everybody expected him to have a below-average bat while hoping his glove would carry the day. He's hitting worse than we'd like, but he's waaaaaay closer to his projections than the other three.
Unfortunately, that doesn't buy Morel as much time as it should, because he's clearly the low man on the totem pole. He has the shortest track record. He plays a power position, whereas Rios and Beckham do not. And he has minor-league options. If they all scuffle to the finish, Morel's lost year is the easiest to reconcile.
That said, Morel's struggles have lacked a certain emotional toll. Dunn looks done, Rios emits indifference, and Beckham, in the words of Hawk Harrelson, has the spirit of a "beaten puppy." By comparison, Morel's season has been smooth sailing. As long as he slaps a single every four at-bats and does his job on the left side of the infield, he sidesteps reasonable expectations that he could and should do more. I mean ... nine walks. It's September. Yet there's just been way bigger fish to fry.
September was always going to be important for Morel, based on the learning curve of a non-elite rookie. It's more important now, because he accomplished too little over his first five months. But it's still salvageable. If he rides this upswing through the end of the season, he'll have completed his two key objectives -- to play high-quality defense, and to eventually figure out major-league pitching. It might've taken longer than desired, but he won't be one of the top five reasons why the "All In" White Sox sunk.
However, if this hot streak goes the way of its predecessors -- immediately answered by a slump, forever tethering Morel to a .600 OPS -- the Sox will be more than justified to take a good hard look at third base, because it's one of a few areas they can realistically upgrade with their budget constraints. Morel has benefited from flying under the radar, but if he doesn't stand out in September, he'll likely find himself under a microscope.