Rolling into the season with Brent Morel as the entrenched starting third basemen last season didn’t work out much at all. He somehow managed to slug under .200 before being shut down after 125 plate appearances due to back problems, and when you slug under .200, there’s an awful lot of damage that can be done to the team in 125 plate appearances.
Neither interpretation of how he sunk to such levels really is conducive to placing trust in Morel. Either there is a lot of truth to the pretty darn bad .245/.287/.366 line he managed in 2011, and playing hurt drags him down to just unimaginable levels, or the back injury was just that debilitating–and if you watched him swing in April, that really seems like the case–that he needs to re-prove over time that he can play regularly and be healthy.
The White Sox, to their credit, showed the necessary lack of faith in Morel by signing utilityman Jeff Keppinger to play third base, but notably did not block him with a full-time, permanent third basemen. It’s something Morel is certainly counting on.
"“He looked great. He had no reservations with the bat,” Manto said during a conference call Thursday. “There was something different in his eye. He’s coming in ready to compete for a job and he’s making no secret about it.”"
Keppinger’s maligned, below-average defense plays to both second and third base, and his reliably adequate, but unremarkable empty-average production (.288/.337/.396 career line) provides a reasonable level for either of the Sox good-glove and disappointingly no-hit infielders (Morel and Gordon Beckham) to strive for.
Not so long ago, Brent Morel was tabbed to be able to provide empty average production while playing good defense. Optimism over how capable he is of achieving Keppinger-like production has obviously and deservingly waned, but by the sound of Manto, it’s far from the point of being eradicated in the organization.
If there’s one benefit to settling for a stop-gap who is more suited for a super-sub role holding down an infield position, it’s that Keppinger can slide into just if by some Bunuel-ian turn of events Morel and Beckham hit in manners worthy of full-time roles. More plausibly, if one of the two youngsters shows a pulse, Keppinger can take playing time from the one that doesn’t.
‘Brent Morel is on the comeback trail!’ stories will and probably should still be chuckled at derisively for now, but the Sox can afford to embrace them. Hard choices about Morel’s future are avoided, and he’s even allowed to come into Spring Training with a job to compete for. Everyone is mildly content for now.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan