Sunday, January 23, 2011

Up and Coming Third Basemen: Part 3

Earlier today I kicked of our newest series here at Central In Focus, a review of's Jonathan Mayo's list of his top-10 third base prospects for 2011. We've already examined two very young, very raw, and very talented prospects - the Tigers Nick Castellanos (#10) and the Twins Miguel Sano (#5). The only players left now are the three players Mayo identifies as the best third base prospects in all of baseball and they're all AL Central players.


Continuing the theme of working from the bottom of the list to the top I'm pleased to present my thoughts on talented White Sox prospect;

Brent Morel

While the two players we reviewed first were long on upside and short on experience, the top four players on Mayo's list all have significantly more experience and are all very close to making an impact at the Major League level. Or as is the case with Morel, have already gotten their feet wet.

If upside were the only consideration when making prospect lists, odds are Brent Morel would have been fifth of this list, but it isn't. While Sano and Castellanos have the tools to become perennial all-stars neither have even tasted A ball - and in Castellanos' case, have hardly played more than a handful of pro games. So much can happen between where they are now and the day they eventually reach the Majors. Skills improve and diminish, injuries set players back...

What Morel lacks in all-star talent, he makes up for in refined abilities. After impressive showings at both AA and AAA to open the 2010 season, a 23 year old Morel was rewarded with a late season call up and got into 21 games, accumulating 70 professional plate appearances. He hit well in both minor league stops, posting OPS marks of .806 and .851 in AA and AAA respectively. Morel 2009 and 2010 Minor League seasons show he has the ability to be a solid and perhaps even slightly above average Major League hitter.


The two things that jump out are the wak rate, which is pretty meager, and his very high BABIP.  It's not unusal to see Minor League hitters post far higher than 'normal' BABIP marks - the fielders aren't of the same caliber as their Major league counter-parts and as a result, more balls in play become hits. But that's also why when projecting players in the minors, you can't simply take their Minor League performance and assume it'll translate the same way into the Majors.

In Morel's case, we can take a look at his 2009 line where he posted a .296 BABIP that will ultimately be far more like the one he'll suffer at the next level. That .296 BABIP, paired with a walk rate that was better than he showed at either AA or AAA, and an ISO of .173 that is toward his high end produced a .281/.335/.453 triple slash and as he enters his peak years, that's essentially the sort of performance I'd project for him.

While Morel projects as a slightly better than average offensive third baseman once he adjusts to the Major Leagues, offense has never been Morel's calling card. That honor belongs to his defense, which is very well regarded. Morel exhibits plus lateral range, charges the ball well, shows soft hands, and a somewhat above average arm. The one thing about his defense that stands out to me is how adept he is at turning the double play. It's something a lot of experienced third basemen struggle with, but Morel has a quick release and the touch to put the ball in a good spot for the second baseman to make the turn. He's good enough defensively at third, and good enough with the turn that in a pinch, I wouldn't hesisitate to play him at short.

He's the sort of defender that can step in and immediately provide very good and nearly elite +10-15 run defense. Regardless of what Morel brings with the bat as he transitions to the Majors, be it a .750 OPS or even slightly worse, his defense should make him at least a league average player who can be worth 2-3 WAR from the gun.

No, he doesn't have the hype that you'll get around a Sano or Castellanos, but he's got something they don't, and that's projectability. You know what you're going to get with Morel and though it may take a year or two to polish off offensively, what you're going to get is going to be a solid every day third baseman who can provide a solid supplemental bat in the #7 spot in the order and be the type of defender who gives his pitchers the confidence to attack the zone knowing they have a vacuum behind them who will clean up anything the opposition puts in play.

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