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 sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

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USA TODAY

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

One Jimenez just isn't enough for the White Sox.

The White Sox signed the younger brother of top prospect Eloy Jimenez this weekend. Enoy Jimenez is a 17-year-old infielder, and the 21-year-old outfielder ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball was on hand for his brother's big moment.

Eloy figures to hit the big leagues early next season, though it will likely be a while longer before his teenage brother could do the same. Still, they're likely hoping for the chance to play together one day.

According to this pretty exhaustive list from MLB.com, four sets of brothers have played together on the White Sox: Homer and Ted Blankenship in the 1920s, Dick and Hank Allen in the 1970s, Roberto and Sandy Alomar in 2003 and 2004 and John and Jordan Danks in 2012.

Should we be getting ready for the fifth pair?

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.