White Sox

Morel ready to build off solid finish

629682.png

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.

Dallas Keuchel apologizes in wake of Astros' sign-stealing scandal: 'I personally am sorry'

Dallas Keuchel apologizes in wake of Astros' sign-stealing scandal: 'I personally am sorry'

Dallas Keuchel started his White Sox tenure with an apology.

Keuchel said he was sorry Friday, the first player to do so in the aftermath of baseball busting Keuchel’s former club, the Houston Astros, for using technology to steal signs during their run to a world championship in 2017.

Keuchel didn’t get into too many specifics, nor did he reveal whether he played any kind of role in the Astros’ process of relaying the signs of opposing catchers via a center field camera and a monitor near the dugout, then alerting teammates to what sort of pitch was coming by banging on a trashcan in the dugout.

But he did apologize, doing so, perhaps, in an effort to speak for that group of players who have been the subject of much discussion since Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were fired earlier this month.

“I think, first and foremost, I think apologies should be in order,” Keuchel said before the opening ceremonies of SoxFest at McCormick Place. “When the stuff was going on, it was never intended to be what it’s made to be right now. I think when stuff comes out about some things that happen during the course of a big league ball season, it’s always blown up to the point of, ‘Oh my gosh, this has never happened before.’

“I’m not going to go into specific detail, but during the course of the playoffs in ‘17, everybody was using multiple signs. For factual purposes, when there’s nobody on base, when in the history of Major League Baseball has there been multiple signs? You can go back and watch film of every team in the playoffs, there were probably six out of eight teams with multiple signs. It’s just what the state of baseball was at that point in time.

“Was (what the Astros did) against the rules? Yes, it was, and I personally am sorry for what’s come about, the whole situation. But it is what it is, and we’ve got to move past that. I never thought anything would’ve come like it did, and I, myself, feel sorry. But you’ve got to move on.”

While no players have been punished for their roles in what happened in 2017, it remains somewhat head-scratching as to why the uber-talented Astros thought they even needed to do this sort of thing to reach the top of the baseball mountain.

Keuchel said Friday that sometimes the sign-stealing did give the Astros an edge and sometimes it didn't.

"To the extent of the whole situation back then, I can tell you that not every game there was signs being stolen," he said. "Some guys did a really good job. And sometimes we did as a group have signs, but we still couldn't hit the pitcher. So it wasn't like every game we had everything going on so at that point that's when the whole system, it really works a little bit, but at the same time there was a human element where some guys were better than our hitters."

In addition to offering up his own apology, Keuchel ever so briefly weighed in on the still-hot-button topic of whether former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers was right to act as a whistleblower and reveal details of the sign-stealing to the commissioner.

"That's a tough subject because it's such a tight-knit community in the clubhouse and in baseball, especially," Keuchel said. "You're playing 162 games, at least, in the regular season, plus spring training and then maybe in the playoffs, if you're lucky. So you're pushing 185 to 200 games (with each other), and it sucks to the extent of that the clubhouse rule was broken. And that's where I'll go with that. I don't have much else to say about Mike."

As for where things go from here, that remains to be seen. The Boston Red Sox remain under investigation for allegations of similar behavior during their run to a World Series title a year later. Alex Cora was the bench coach with the 2017 Astros and the manager of the 2018 Red Sox, and though baseball has not levied any specific punishment toward him yet, the Red Sox fired him. Carlos Beltran, the only player from the 2017 Astros mentioned in commissioner Rob Manfred's summary of the investigation, was fired from his briefly held post as the manager of the New York Mets.

"There are a lot of people who are sorry in that organization, including myself, for what happened," he said. "Do pitchers benefit from any of that? I mean, not really. But at the same time, we might've had a few runs more per game.

"In my instance, I did not. I was actually pretty mad about that, I didn't really enjoy that sometimes, but it is what it is and it just happened to come out that Mike said something and who knows.

"I don't think anybody else is going to come out and say anything from other teams. They see what happens now."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Eloy Jimenez has high praise for Luis Robert: 'He's going to be the next Mike Trout'

Eloy Jimenez has high praise for Luis Robert: 'He's going to be the next Mike Trout'

Last spring, Michael Kopech said Eloy Jimenez was the Babe Ruth of this generation. Jimenez returned the favor by calling Kopech this generation's Nolan Ryan.

Well, start blocking out a wing of the Hall of Fame for members of the 2020 White Sox, because we've got another comp for the ages.

Obviously, everyone's very excited to see Luis Robert hit the major leagues. Jimenez is cranking that excitement up to 11.

"Some people are going to call me crazy," he said Friday before SoxFest kicked off at McCormick Place, "but he’s going to be the next Mike Trout.

"He has five tools, and he plays hard like Mike Trout."

Well then.

Trout has long been considered the best baseball player on the planet, someone who's putting up hall of Fame numbers on an annual basis to the extent that folks wonder if he's the best to ever play.

Should Robert come anywhere close to that, White Sox fans will be quite pleased.

Certainly the praise is not entirely unwarranted, with Robert boasting a full toolbox of baseball skills. He's fresh off a 2019 campaign that saw him set the minor leagues on fire: a .328/.376/.624 slash line to go along with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 108 runs scored, 31 doubles and 36 stolen bases. Along the way he sent highlight after highlight back to his adoring public on the South Side, clips of him blasting balls into the Charlotte sky, making eye-popping catches and using his blazing speed to great effect.

The defensive skill ought to be especially intriguing to Jimenez, who's going to play next to Robert in the White Sox outfield. But while Jimenez's defensive improvement will continue to be a big focus in 2020, so will Robert's range in center field. Jimenez has a plan, though, if Robert tries to steal away any of his fly balls.

"I’m going to draw a line," Jimenez said with a smile. "If he goes over the line, I’m going to punch him. It’s going to be like that this year."

It was just the minor leagues, of course, but those descriptions aren't terribly dissimilar from the ones frequently assigned to Trout out in Anaheim.

You likely won't hear Rick Hahn or Rick Renteria comparing Robert to the best player in the game, not wanting to put too much pressure on the 22-year-old. Jimenez knows as well as anyone how difficult the transition to the majors can be, even for the most talented athletes in the world. He set the minors ablaze in 2018, only to experience growing pains as opposing pitchers attacked him like a proven veteran.

So seeing something similar from Robert would not be surprising.

"Last year, I was a little bit anxious," Jimenez said, "and I know he’s going to be, too.

"The first year of your contract, you play on Opening Day, it’s going to be a little bit tough for him, too. It’s not going to be (tough) just for him, it’s for anybody who makes the Opening Day roster. It’s a little bit tough because it’s different pitching, it’s different stuff and the pitchers are a lot better at this level.

"He’s going to need someone. But he’s got (Jose) Abreu, he’s got (Yoan) Moncada and he’s got me. So he’s going to be good."

One of the biggest differences between Jimenez's ascent to the major leagues and Robert's is that Robert is joining a White Sox team with playoff expectations. Between the young core that broke out in such a big way last season and all the newcomers Hahn's front office brought in this winter, the White Sox look ready to vault into contention mode. Robert's arrival is a factor in those expectations, too, so while it might seem like the spotlight can be lured away by other players, Jimenez said it will be tough for Robert to adjust to the big leagues in relative obscurity.

"When you have five tools," he said, "everybody’s going to have their eyes on you."

Well put.

If he truly is the next Trout, then he'll never lose that spotlight. Though playing alongside the next Ruth and the next Ryan, a couple fellow future Hall of Famers, ought to help.

That might sound a little crazy, as Jimenez well knows. But he's sticking to that comp.

"You will see."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.