White Sox

Morel ready to build off solid finish

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Morel ready to build off solid finish

When Robin Ventura was hired in October, it was easy to speculate that he'd be a boon to the development of third baseman Brent Morel. After all, Ventura was one of the best third basemen ever to put on a White Sox uniform, both offensively and defensively.

But as Ventura sees it, he won't be giving too many tips and pointers to Morel, at in terms of his glove.

"Hopefully he can give some to me. He's pretty good," Ventura said. "I don't worry too much about Brent defensively. I think he's a great third baseman."

Morel's glove work didn't draw too many questions in 2011. His offense, though, did.

Through the end of August, Morel had just a .588 OPS with just seven walks in 341 plate appearances. He only struck out 39 times in those 341 trips to the plate, but that may have been part of the problem.

"I was just caught up trying to put the ball in play and just kinda move guys over and do that kind of stuff," Morel said of his April-August approach. "Toward the end, I relaxed a little bit and was more selective and patient up there. That helped me out."

In September, Morel hit eight home runs, took 15 walks and struck out 18 times in 103 plate appearances. And while his batting average was still low a .224, his on-base percentage was a solid .340.

While Morel did pull the ball more in September (and August, for that matter), it wasn't something he tried to do. Instead, it was something that came naturally as he became more comfortable with his approach.

"It just kind of worked out that way," Morel said. I wasn't really trying to pull or go the other way. Just being more patient and seeing more pitches and cover the whole plate."

Those late-season developments were, according to Morel, just part of the learning process for a young hitter.

"You kinda go through your ups and downs there throughout the year. It's an elite level of competition, so I'm never going to feel truly at home there," explained Morel. "But I just learned a little bit about myself, my approach and getting comfortable in the major leagues, getting used to pitching what they're trying to do to me."

That line from Morel about never truly feeling comfortable at such an elite level isn't something on which to dwell. He's someone who doesn't need to be elite at the plate, because he has the ability to be elite in the field as he gains more experience. While he has good instincts, good hands and a good arm, his defense is something that'll improve with more repetitions and familiarity with his opponents.

"You have spray charts, you know tendencies like when you're supposed to play close to the line or more in the hole. But it's kind of just a feel, what you think he's going to do, what your pitcher has working that day, is he throwing a lot of ground balls, pop flies," said Morel. "It's just kind of like a feel for the game and trying to make an educated guess between that and the charts."

And, of course, having a wealth of information about third base from the team's manager can't hurt.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Will the White Sox call up Jimenez and/or Kopech this season?

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AP/USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Will the White Sox call up Jimenez and/or Kopech this season?

With Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech dominating in Triple-A, we tackle the No. 1 question on the mind of every White Sox fan: Are either or both of the White Sox top prospects going to play in the majors this year?

Chuck Garfien, Vinnie Duber and Slavko Bekovic give their takes and predictions. Plus, which other minor leaguers should be called up in September?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada

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USA TODAY

Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada

White Sox fans are justifiably concerned by Yoan Moncada's league-leading number of strikeouts.

Moncada carried big expectations into this season after earning the title of No. 1 prospect in baseball last year. He hasn't lived up to those expectations. But the struggles Moncada has dealt with this season don't at all etch in stone what kind of career he'll have in the long term.

Moncada's just 23 years old, and part of the reason there have been so many outside complaints about his season is that he's under the microscope in this rebuilding process. As an early arriver to the South Side, he gets looked at closely on a daily basis while many of the other highly touted youngsters in the organization are going through their developments in the minor leagues. And with the team where it is in its rebuilding effort, Moncada is going through certain things at the big league level that, if the White Sox were in a different spot, he might be experiencing in the minors.

But while Moncada is on pace to break Major League Baseball's single-season strikeout record, it's not at all the end of the world. See above for several reasons why. But there's another good one that's been discussed before but perhaps warrants a closer look, particularly after Moncada added two more strikeouts to his total in Monday night's loss to the Detroit Tigers. (He's up to 169 on the campaign and on pace to strike out 236 times.)

For fans expecting Moncada to arrive in the big leagues and display complete offensive mastery at the plate, just look to two of baseball's biggest stars, two guys who also piled up big strikeout numbers in rookie seasons that ended in Rookie of the Year awards, for examples of how Moncada's path can still end in plenty of major league success.

Kris Bryant struck out 199 times in 2015 to lead the National League and set the Cubs' single-season record. That's striking out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. It's also a total that currently stands as the 11th highest in baseball history. But Bryant has since seen those strikeout numbers drop dramatically, a possibility for Moncada as time wears on considering the rave reviews he gets from manager Rick Renteria and others when it comes to his understanding of the strike zone.

Bryant saw his strikeouts drop from 199 in his rookie season to 154 in 2016, a season in which he had 49 more plate appearances than he did in the year prior. Last season, his strikeout total plummeted to 128 (and his walks climbed to a career-best 95) in just 15 more plate appearances than he had in 2015. This season, Bryant has been plagued by significant injuries, but for what it's worth, he's got 75 strikeouts in 358 plate appearances, a strikeout rate 10 percent lower than the one from his rookie season.

So while Bryant and Moncada are different players, there's recent precedent — and just up the Red Line, at that — for a player striking out a ton during his rookie season only to consistently see those strikeouts decrease as time goes on. Remember that this is only Moncada's first full season in the majors. Time and experience can change an awful lot.

Then there's Aaron Judge. Last season, the New York Yankees slugger struck out 208 times, the sixth-highest total in baseball history. Like Bryant did in his rookie season, Judge struck out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. But unlike Bryant, Judge is striking out at a similar rate this season. Judge is a different kind of player than Bryant, of course, more of a slugger with the kind of power you see elsewhere among baseball's all-time single-season strikeout leaders: your Mark Reynoldses, your Adam Dunns, your Chris Davises, your Ryan Howards. Of course, Judge also walks a ton, something some of those guys did/do, too. Judge led baseball with his 208 punchouts last season, but he also led the American League with 127 walks. Judge ranks in among the league leaders again this season, with 68 walks.

Again, we'll go back to the praise for and confidence in Moncada's eye at the plate. He's got 50 walks in this strikeout-heavy season. As his skills at the dish are honed further, perhaps he could follow a path more similar to Judge's than Bryant's, where his strikeout numbers stay high but so, too, do his walk numbers.

Now, these are obviously not perfect comparisons. Bryant was an NL MVP a year after he was the NL's Rookie of the Year. Judge was the AL's Rookie of the Year a year ago and finished second in MVP voting. Moncada has other statistical areas of concern besides strikeouts: He's slashing .221/.304/.398 after Monday's loss in Motown, numbers that don't come close to the Rookie of the Year stats that Bryant and Judge put up in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

But these are examples of paths to success for players who hit the big leagues only to strike out and strike out a lot. There's little way of knowing if Moncada will be able to achieve the stardom those two have accomplished. But the big strikeout total doesn't preclude him from doing so.