Sox’ Morel hoping to carry over hot finish

Last year, White Sox third baseman Brent Morel was able to learn on the job.

In his first full season in the major leagues, Morel didn’t exactly make Sox fans forget about Joe Crede, or even Wilson Betemit.

But as manager Ozzie Guillen said countless times in 2011, Morel wasn’t expected to carry the offense.

He didn’t, until it was too late.

Batting .242 with 2 home runs and 22 RBI through the first five months of the season, Morel erupted in September.

The 24-year-old third baseman hit 8 homers and drove in 19 runs over the final month as his bat finally caught up with his glove.

“I don’t think I’m going to hit 8 home runs every month,” Morel said this spring. “I really wasn’t even trying to hit home runs. I started feeling comfortable and tried to hit the ball hard. Fortunately, they started going out.”

With a full season under his belt, Morel will try building on his breakout September.

“Finishing up strong definitely gives me some confidence going into this season,” Morel said. “Like I said, I don’t think I’m going to go out there and hit 40 home runs or anything, but hitting for more power is something I think I’m capable of doing.”

Patient approach:

Morel’s 8 home runs and 19 RBI in September jump off the page, but his approach set up the success.

From April through August, Morel drew 7 walks in 328 at-bats. In September, he walked 15 times in 85 at-bats. The early struggles still left Morel with a sickly .287 on-base percentage for the season.

“I think I was able to get comfortable at the plate and I started understanding what pitchers were trying to do,” Morel said. “I just relaxed and slowed everything down.”

By waiting for better pitches, Morel looked a lot more like the player who hit .435 in the Arizona Fall League in 2009 and batted a combined .322 with 10 home runs and 130 games with Class AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte in 2010.

“I think earlier in the (2011) season, I was trying to do too much,” Morel said. “I developed some bad habits, but I finally was able to make some adjustments. All in all, I’m happy with the way I played and I think there is still room for improvement.”

Stats guru Bill James doesn’t see marked power improvement from Morel this season. Morel batted .245 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI in 2011. This year, James projects Morel to bat .273 with 12 HRs and 53 RBI.

Glove work:

Morel was a shortstop at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and he stayed at the position before switching to third base full-time in 2010.

There have been some comparisons to Crede, but Morel is a decided step below the White Sox’ former standout third baseman.

Morel is still an effective defender, and his .953 fielding percentage last season was fifth best among American League third basemen.

If Morel needs any help improving his defensive game, he can turn to new Sox manager Robin Ventura, who won six Gold Gloves at third base during his playing days.

“I like the way Brent plays third base,” Ventura said. “I really don’t know if he needs my help, but that’s the position I played and I obviously have a better feel for it than other positions. But I think he’s going to be just fine over there.”

Other options:

Morel is in line for regular duty at third base, especially after the ageless Omar Vizquel exited after last season and signed with the Blue Jays.

Brent Lillibridge seems to play everywhere, and he is the primary backup at third base.

Lillibridge did not play any games at third last year, but he has played the position in past seasons and was busy taking groundballs at third when spring training started.

Lillibridge got the start at third base Tuesday in the White Sox’ second exhibition game.

Dan Johnson, a nonroster invitee who homered in the Sox’ Cactus league opener Monday, is also getting a look at third base.

Tops in the AL

Scot Gregor ranks the third basemen:

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

2. Evan Longoria, Rays

3. Adrian Beltre, Rangers

12. Brent Morel, WHITE SOX

RotoGraphs on Morel:

Morel’s (2011) season was almost a total loss if it weren’t for the last month and a half where he went on a power binge. Morel ought to be able to provide a solid batting average, potential for upper teens in home runs and depending on where he lands in the White Sox’ lineup, he shouldn’t kill you in runs or RBI. He might even (steal) a few bases while he’s at it.

Chicago White Sox third baseman Brent Morel makes a throw to first to retire Kansas City Royals’ Alex Gordon during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011, in Kansas City, Mo. Associated Press
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