Coming into the 2012 season, Brent Morel had a pretty sweet setup.
Dayan Viciedo had moved to another position, Omar Vizquel was banished to barren recesses of the Canadian wilderness, and the organization was so lacking in challengers to Morel’s dominion as starting 3rd basemen that they tried to see what 30 year-old outfielder Conor Jackson had in the tank at the hot corner in Charlotte.
And he burnt it all down.
Or more, he had it all burnt down for him, since most of the trouble was sparked by issues beyond his control. Through the close of Camelback Ranch, Brent Morel was hitting .317, even though he had already gotten a couple of days off in the final weeks to rest a sore back. Then the Sox traveled to Houston, Morel went 0 for 6 while the rest of the team beat the Astros mercilessly, and never looked back.
Previously derided as a punch-and-judy hitter, Morel added an Adam Dunn-like strikeout rate to his repertoire. And since Robin Ventura was still trying to reward Morel for his solid Spring, his problems played out in the big situations that a #2 hitter regularly finds themselves. By mid-May, Morel had struck out 18 fewer times than he had in all of 2011…in 300 less at-bats. Morel’s prominent role in the lineup brought an intense critical eye to his state of affairs, and there was an awful lot to find.
His Spring Training back trouble had brutally intensified to where Morel was helpless to cover the plate against outside fastballs. Chronic digestion and exhaustion issues that had cost him over 10 pounds of weight loss since initially reporting to Glendale, before he was able to identify that he had a sensitivity to gluten. He went 1 for 2 with two walks on May 17th–it was as good as any game he had all year, but also the merciful end of his season with the big club.
While it’s hard to besmirch Morel’s skill level for a stretch of play where his back was killing and he couldn’t digest any of his food, it might have been the most harmful thing he could have done to his standing with the franchise. In the wake of Morel’s trip to the DL, the White Sox were forced to seek an immediate replacement. By the time Morel was even well enough to start rehab, that replacement was Kevin Youkilis.
It’s not as if Morel had a huge mountain to climb to work his way back onto a roster that eventually featured Jose Lopez and Ray Olmedo, but after an unremarkable rehab stint in High-A Winston-Salem, he was downright putrid in AAA. He hit .194/.242/.250 in 132 plate appearances in Charlotte, and featured strikeout problems similar to the ones that plagued him in Chicago. 21.2% whiffs is just no good for someone of Morel’s limited power and patience.
It all serves to put Morel, and the White Sox in a terrible bind. Beyond simply his now pretty dreadful .230/.273/.338 major league batting line in a season’s worth of plate appearances, the Sox are not a team that’s liable to dismiss a herniated disk in their 25 year-old 3rd basemen as a passing issue. Simply put, the Sox can’t trust Morel to grow into a starting role, and Kenny Williams’ refusal to give a comment on his future reflects as much.
“I can’t answer that question without seeing him on the field in spring training,” Williams said [on Morel].
That’s fair–Morel’s turned in two disappointing seasons and can’t be trusted any farther than what he can show himself capable of. But it’s also unfair, because it’s unlikely to provide a great forum for Morel to impress. He was touted as a solid glove player who make contact and contribute roughly average offense in his prime, and was notable for conquering minor league levels after an initial period of struggle. He was supposed to grow into our appreciation through steady competence, but instead will have to scrap it out in the few Spring Training battles, and reserve opportunities meted out to him.
Such is the cost of a summer like 2012.