02/14/2013 5:45 PM ET
Healthy Morel trying to develop versatility
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Brent Morel isn't worried about the 2013 White Sox roster permutations, which seem to leave him as a long shot to break camp with the team. After losing all but 35 games last season because of a back problem, the 25-year-old is simply happy to be healthy.
"It has been really encouraging to come here, doing what I did in the offseason, kind of my own pace, my own schedule, feeling as good as it did," said Morel, who was allowed to report with pitchers and catchers because of his back injury. "Just to come here and practice three days in a row, to feel as good as it does, I'm really encouraged to go out there and keep playing with no problems."
"A slight injury, it just makes guys look different the way they move around, and for him, he's swinging the bat free and easy," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "It's different when you get some spikes on and when you're running around and doing stuff. His [issue] is more kind of longevity of being able to stay and play nice and loose like that."
Free-agent acquisition Jeff Keppinger is penciled in at third base, leaving the only open roster battle between Jordan Danks, Lars Anderson and Morel to fill out the bench. Angel Sanchez has the edge as the utility infielder, beyond his status as a Rule 5 pick from the Angels, because of his ability to play shortstop. Morel has played across the infield throughout his baseball career, but has just 17 Minor League games at shortstop to his credit outside of third base.
Even with that lack of prior professional experience, Ventura acknowledged Thursday that Morel will get some innings at a defensive spot other than third during Spring Training.
"I know he can play third base. That's not the issue," Ventura said. "It's giving him a little more versatility, maybe stick him at second base. It's always good to have."
"I'm always open," Morel said. "I want to be the third baseman, but if that doesn't happen, I want to help anyway possible."
Morel admits to picking up a few bad habits with his swing in order to compensate for the back pain. But with the renewed strength comes a move back to a better hitting technique.
"As it progressed, I definitely created bad habits. But I think that's all in the past now," Morel said. "I'm able to do what I could do before and just swing properly."
Development ongoing for young hurlers
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The focus of Thursday's White Sox bullpen sessions centered on John Danks and his continued comeback from Aug. 6 arthroscopic surgery.
But as important as Danks' bounceback is to the team's 2013 success, the continued development of young pitchers such as Jose Quintana, Hector Santiago, Nate Jones and Addison Reed stands just as important.
"I'm not sitting here thinking, 'Well, we've arrived,'" pitching coach Don Cooper said of four of the 10 rookie hurlers who pitched for the White Sox last season. "We've got more to do, more to improve, more to focus on and more to keep going.
"That was the thing we said pretty much all of last year. Just keep pushing along, whether it was a good outing or a bad outing or whatever, just keep pushing. Keep our eyes on the prize and where are we going, what do we need to do individually to get better?"
These four pitchers mentioned by Cooper will play integral roles for the 2013 squad. Reed returns as closer, with Jones' effectiveness maneuvering him into setup work, while Quintana rejoins the rotation and Santiago moves between starter and reliever.
Cooper understands that winning really is the only thing that matters at the big league level. He also understands the development component for the White Sox hurlers.
"For each guy, it might be different stuff," Cooper said. "They held up pretty well last year, so they passed the test. But you know what? There's a new test coming up this year. That's where our focus is going to be."
Keppinger unhindered by offseason injury
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There's a reason why Jeff Keppinger has struck out just 173 times over his eight-year career, covering 2,459 at-bats.
"When I was a little kid, I used to cry when I struck out. I hated walking back to the dugout knowing I couldn't run to first base," Keppinger said. "I felt like everyone was looking at me and upset with me that I didn't hit the ball. So it's something that has carried with me throughout my life and career."
The White Sox are hoping this Keppinger trait carries through into the 2013 season and beyond, with the free-agent signee providing a little offensive diversity into the free-swinging White Sox lineup. Keppinger sustained a broken right fibula upon falling down the stairs at home during this offseason, but reports no Spring Training setbacks from the injury.
"I feel good. The ankle is doing good," Keppinger said. "It doesn't seem to be limiting me taking ground balls.
"I'm doing a little more running to build up my feet. I kind of just followed my physical therapist. As far as I know, I didn't have any setbacks. I'm feeling good and ready to get started."
Third to first
"It's something every ballplayer looks forward to, playing for your country and playing in front of your crowd," Rios said. "I think everybody should be proud. I am proud. I will be proud if I play. But it's something that's fun to do."
Rios has no worries about staying on his Spring Training schedule while playing in Puerto Rico.
"You can still get your work done over there," Rios said. "The schedule is almost the same as the schedule we have here."
• Dylan Axelrod is scheduled to start the first Cactus League game against the Dodgers on Feb. 23. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said Andre Rienzo will get the Cactus League start on Feb. 26 against the Rangers in Surprise, working two innings before he departs to play for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic.