Brent Morel could be all over the infield this spring. - Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
With Jeff Keppinger holding down third base for the near future, the former starter could get reps elsewhere in the infield
If nothing else, Brent Morel is on track to shatter his previous season high in quotes given.
After remaining below the radar in a turbulent rookie season and unsuccessfully attempting to weather a bulging disc in his second year, he's been slowly but surely shedding the Brent Morose facade for this season. A fortnight ago, I took notice of this declaration from his underrated Twitter feed:
And after a couple good days in Glendale, he's making his good feelings public.
"It has been really encouraging to come here, doing what I did in the offseason, kind of my own pace, my own schedule, feeling as good as it did," said Morel, who was allowed to report with pitchers and catchers because of his back injury. "Just to come here and practice three days in a row, to feel as good as it does, I'm really encouraged to go out there and keep playing with no problems."
Robin Ventura, who was an assistant to Buddy Bell for Morel's best stretch with the Sox, also sees the difference, albeit with a qualifier:
"A slight injury, it just makes guys look different the way they move around, and for him, he's swinging the bat free and easy," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "It's different when you get some spikes on and when you're running around and doing stuff. His [issue] is more kind of longevity of being able to stay and play nice and loose like that."
Unfortunately for Morel, his reward for a healthy, productive spring may be limited by the roster situation. Ventura wouldn't classify his road to a 25-man spot as an "uphill battle," but the signing of Jeff Keppinger blocks him at third for the time being, and Angel Sanchez's defensive versatility will probably keep the Sox from trying to rush him into a utility role without a whole lot of experience or proof of 100-percentness.
That said, Ventura suggested the Sox will likely plan to expand his defensive palette during spring training, perhaps to see how fast he can acclimate. Shortstop is somewhat familiar to him. In the past, he spent some time at the position during instructional league, and he played 17 games at short for Charlotte in 2010 to accommodate Dayan Viciedo during the Tank's last gasps as a third baseman. The reviews were mixed, ranging from "not feasible" to "range is meh, but hands are good." The latter suggests that he could eventually be a backup/stopgap option with work and reps.
But Ventura specifically floated the idea of Morel playing second base, and that's the new hook, at least for his recorded professional career. It wouldn't be the most effective use of his best defensive tool (his arm), but the possibility of a healthy Morel with super-sub capabilities is worth exploring. It gives him a better shot at cracking the Sox's roster, and the Sox could certainly use the upper-level depth at multiple positions. Besides Carlos Sanchez, there isn't much there to make Gordon Beckham sweat.
The funny thing is that if Morel pursues this road to reinvention -- contact-oriented hitter expanding his defensive responsibilities after an injury thwarted his initial attempt at owning a position -- he looks kinda similar to the man who would be keeping him down. Watching Keppinger in spring training might be the closest he'll ever get to seeing his future self, and he could learn some lessons from the exposure.
This isn't to say, "Maybe this is the best for his career," because that would be trite. The best possibility for his career would've been a complete lack of Keppinger and a chance to take over third in his final pre-arbitration year. Given his limited ceiling, though, a bench role was always a distinct possibility, so getting the time and attention to increase his potential as a backup isn't a terrible backup plan.