03/15/10 11:27 PM ET
Pair of White Sox prospects opening eyes
Leesman, Morel won't make team, but they aren't far away
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Actually, the first big league Spring Training for both of these players quite possibly could come to an end when the next round of roster moves are announced on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Morel, a talented third baseman, probably will be headed to Double-A Birmingham, while the left-handed-throwing Leesman will be part of the starting rotation with the Barons at Class A Winston-Salem. Neither non-roster invite was given much of a chance to break camp with the team upon arrival in Arizona, but the duo has needed only three weeks to prove their Major League arrival might not be too far away.
"I thought he was a lot further away," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of Leesman. "He's a guy we believe is going to pitch in the big leagues."
"Very good. He has a great chance," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Morel. "Obviously, not right now. But I saw this kid in the Minors a few years ago, and he reminded me of Joe Crede with less power. That's the type of hitter he is."
These two players certainly ranked high up on the pantheon of White Sox prospects before Spring Training, but they weren't as highly touted as a Jordan Danks, Jared Mitchell or Daniel Hudson, for example. Then again, the phrase "under-the-radar" falls just short of being the White Sox franchise catch phrase, so nobody gets overlooked if they perform.
Here's a look at one young position player and one young pitcher whose blips on said radar just might have become a bit more prominent and certainly louder through their work in Glendale.
As an injury replacement for Dayan Viciedo, Morel won the unofficial 2009 Arizona Fall League batting title with the Peoria Javelinas. He didn't get a special plaque, nor did the 22-year-old read much into the accomplishment.
"Everyone hits well in Arizona," said the low-key Morel with a smile of his .435 average and .456 on-base percentage over 16 games. "It doesn't really matter. It was nice to get the opportunity to go play there and do well."
Since being selected in the third round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Morel has consistently hit. He batted .375 in 15 games with Great Falls and .297 in 45 games with Class A Kannapolis during that '08 season and hit .281 with just 66 strikeouts in 481 at-bats during his first full professional year with Winston-Salem in '09.
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He now has challenged Viciedo as the top third baseman in the system, so much so that Viciedo has received looks at first base this spring. A question surrounding Morel is whether he has the power to play a corner-infield spot, with 16 home runs and 79 RBIs coming in 2009. Remember, one of the reasons Gordon Beckham moved from third to second was because he profiled better offensively as a middle infielder.
It's not an issue that worries Morel. He hit 33 doubles and swiped 25 bases in 2009, so he seems to fit the latest White Sox profile on offense.
"I've never really jumped up and hit many home runs in a year," Morel said. "I have that potential. It's learning my swing and using the strong parts of my body. I have a strong lower half. There's a lot of room for me to grow, that's for sure."
The defense provided by Morel this spring has earned his highest praise. He has gobbled up pretty much everything hit his way, knowing that sort of skill with the glove probably will keep him situated at third for the time being.
"My defense is one of my stronger points of my game, so I don't think they really want to move me," said Morel, who focused on quickness and agility drills during the offseason.
A funny thing happened to Leesman, 23, during his time at this fall's Instructional League. His velocity jumped up from 94 mph to 96 mph.
"As of late, I started throwing harder," Leesman said. "I look at myself as a power lefty pitcher with a good breaking ball. I'm working on my change, and now I have a cutter."
Leesman has been "fiddling with the grip" of the cutter and has started to use it in games. Adding that pitch to his repertoire should help the 11th-round pick from the 2008 Draft build on last year's success.
Over 27 games started for Kannapolis, Leesman posted a 13-5 record with a 3.08 ERA. He led the South Atlantic League in wins with his 157 2/3 innings pitched, while producing a 9-1 record with a 2.91 ERA over his final 15 starts. He then received his Spring Training indoctrination by pitching two scoreless innings at HoHoKam Park to finish off a 15-3 shellacking of the Cubs on March 6.
"A little nerve-wracking at first," said a smiling Leesman of the Cubs appearance. "This has been a big learning experience. Obviously, I'm trying to make a name for myself, letting them know what I can do, and doing the best I can to speed up the whole process."
That process has begun for Morel and Leesman, but they are not alone in their rise from anonymity. Brandon Short, Ken Williams Jr., Justin Greene and Christian Marrero are a few others occasionally added to Cactus League games from Minor League camp who have performed admirably.
Attention has been garnered by the two young players talked about above. But there appears to be more help on the way.
"I'm very proud of our system right now," Guillen said. "I brought like 10 guys on our [Las Vegas] trip. That's how good I feel about those kids."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.