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Wednesday, June 19

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« Jarrett Payton: Don't Question Cutler's Toughness Cubs Preview: Part Two -- Fukudome & Soriano »

White Sox Tue Jan 25 2011

White Sox Preview: Part Two -- Who's on Third?

Thumbnail image for white sox.gifPart of a series previewing the 2011 White Sox.

Third base is the biggest question mark in the White Sox lineup this season. The two main contenders for the job are the young hopeful Brent Morel, who came up at the end of last season with a competent glove and a potentially potent bat, and the lithe, ageless Methuselah, future Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel. And of course, Mark Teahen is still around and the Sox have to pay him $4.75 million this year, so they might as well try and find something for him to do.

My initial prediction, though a bit hasty, was that 2011 would be another year for Omar to assist Alexei Ramirez in guarding the leftfield grass, despite rumblings it would be Morel's year. I still wonder if it could play out that way, mainly because this is the year the Sox are allegedly "All In."

While Brent Morel is indeed one of the better prospects Kenny Williams was able to hang onto last season, he has almost no experience. The Sox have been running a pretty authoritative ad campaign since importing Adam Dunn and re-signing Paul Konerko, and if they are that serious about assaulting their way into October, this might be the summer to rely on someone as sharp and as proven as Vizquel as the day in, day out starter.

A child born the day he debuted would now be old enough to get into bars, but Vizquel still holds down a career fielding percentage of .985, well higher than the .972 posted by the average infielder at his position over those years. Even in his later years, this number hasn't deviated. In the 83 games he started at third last year he only erred three times and his assists numbered in triple digits. Simply put, this is a man Ozzie can count on to keep the score in the Sox favor.

This is not to say that Morel would be a defensive disaster along the lines of 2010 Teahen. In his final year on the Charlotte Knights, he carried a line similar to Vizquel's: 63 games at third base, 114 assists, three errors and an impressive nine double plays. This is happily much better than his previous seasons, where his fielding percentage was seldom above .950. He is progressing consistently, and this spring would be a great opportunity to solidify his place as a major-league third baseman. Once the Cactus League commences, keep an eye on his ability to handle himself as he did on the Knights and his 20 games on the Sox. The better defense he plays in Arizona, the more games he'll start at U.S. Cellular.

Offensively, Morel clearly has more potential than Vizquel, who contributes one home run and a sub-.650 OPS every year. Vizquel is a disciplined hitter good for an occasional single, but his total lack of power means he has been a below-average hitter (as measured by Adjusted OPS) in all but two of his 22 seasons. (Not coincidentally, those were two of his three all-star seasons, 1999 and 2002. In 2002 he hit FOURTEEN homers!)

On the other hand, Morel finished his career in the minors with an average over .300 and an OPS over .800. If Greg Walker can work with him this March to bring that sort of swing to the majors, his likelihood of replacing Omar on a regular basis will vastly improve, especially if Gordon Beckham falters and Ozzie is looking for someone to hit second in front of Dunn and Konerko. The Sox have plenty of power and dependability elsewhere in the lineup, so offense alone won't earn him the spot. If lumber was the sole requirement for the job it could easily go to Teahen or vagabond 1B/3B/OF Dayan Viciedo, both of whom would have to have spectacular springs defensively to even be considered.

Morel can win the job with a solid spring, especially defensively, but Omar is a good backup plan. It should be one of the more compelling competitions in the Sox camp.

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