01/18/12 5:08 PM EST
Morel entering 2012 in new comfort zone
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Morel arrived in Glendale, Ariz., last February ready to partake in a third-base position battle with veteran Mark Teahen. Because of the fact that Morel was pretty much limited to playing third base defensively, the talented 24-year-old wasn't even guaranteed a roster spot.
Not only did Morel win that starting nod, with Teahen eventually being traded to the Blue Jays, but he finished off a fairly solid first full season in the big leagues. Morel's stellar defense never was a question, but he added a .245 average, 10 home runs and 41 RBIs from the bottom of the order.
There will be no challenge to Morel's starting nod this time around, arriving at SoxFest next weekend at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago as the incumbent. He's an established veteran of 478 big league at-bats and 147 games, which Morel admits will provide a slightly altered feel.
"It's going to be a little bit different," said Morel during a recent phone interview. "Last year, I went into Spring Training trying to earn a job and get familiar with the coaching staff and players on the team, really just everyday life in the big leagues.
"Now, I'm going into Spring Training more relaxed. It is a different feel for me, and with a new coaching staff, it's going to be a different feel for a lot of us. We have some new faces all around."
Robin Ventura, beginning his first year as White Sox manager, could directly affect Morel more than any other player on the roster. Morel had a strong relationship with previous manager Ozzie Guillen, who tried to put Morel in the best possible situations to succeed. But as a six-time Gold Glove Award winner at third with a knack for delivering in the clutch, Ventura represents a level Morel eventually would like to reach.
Shortly after Ventura was named as the White Sox 39th manager, he reached out to Morel for an offseason round of golf. Not much is yet known about Ventra as a manager, aside from his high level of baseball acumen and his low-key confidence, but Morel can add that the one-time defensive whiz on the hot corner also hits them fairly solidly on the links.
"Being away from baseball in that situation, it was nice getting to know each other," said Morel of Ventura, who lives about 10 minutes away from Morel in California. "I'm nowhere near that comparison [to Ventura], but I'll be able to learn a lot from him. I was really excited when he got the job."
The charitable component always on display from Ventura, as a player, ex-player and now manager, already has been picked up by Morel. He will be part of and lent his name to the sold-out First Annual League of Dreams Gala Dinner and Auction this Friday at Garces Memorial High School in Bakersfield, Calif., with the money raised at the event going to a non-profit youth program providing children with physical and developmental disabilities the opportunity to play baseball and basketball.
In his first full year with the White Sox, Morel began his own program called "B-Mo's Buddies" during which kids with disabilities were brought out to a September White Sox game by Morel and got to meet with the third baseman. He understands the commitment to the community made by the organization as a whole and that giving back starts with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, but it's a start Morel wants to build on through his desires.
"I don't know how to say it the right way," said Morel, focusing primarily on this Friday's charity event in California. "Being blessed to be able to play high school, college and professional baseball, it's gone through my mind not being able to play in a standard Little League.
"This helps give the kids something to strive for. They have a chance to be just as competitive and have fun being able to play."
As far as Morel's playing goes, there was a decided difference between last September and April through August. He finished with eight homers, 15 walks and 19 RBIs over 27 games during the season's final month, in comparison to his two homers, seven walks and 22 RBIs over his first 99 games.
Those strong final 85 at-bats is something Morel plans to repeat on more than one occasion this season. It also gives him a little more confidence going into the start of this upcoming campaign.
Combine this feeling with Ventura's influence and the comfort of knowing he has a job, and Morel could be prepared for a breakout season.
"To be honest, I haven't really pictured myself one way or another," said Morel, when asked if he viewed himself more as a home run threat or a high-average contributor, after hitting over .320 for Triple-A Charlotte and Double-A Birmingham in 2010. "I'm just trying to max out wherever it is, and find myself somewhere in between both."