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February 16, 2011
Teahen vs. Morel...Fight!
As the gates of spring training camps have mercifully swung open this week, it’s time to turn our attention to positional battles that will be waged throughout the remainder of February and into March.
One such battle will be fought over third base on the South Side as Mark Teahen is duking it out for starting rights with rookie Brent Morel. It’s a particularly noteworthy fight, as the Sox owe Teahen just over $10 million for the next two years of his services. If we can predict one thing about manager Ozzie Guillen, it’s that it’s insane to try to predict what he’ll do with his fringe players. It’s thought that Morel has the edge on Teahen as of right now, but Guillen won’t disrespect a veteran player at the expense of a rookie. He could be leaning toward Morel to start the season, but he won’t tip his hand in February.
That means we have a bona fide competition at the hot corner in Chicago.
If Mark Teahen Wins
Teahen struggled in his first season in Chicago, as his limited power potential completely dried up and he missed a large portion of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured middle finger on his throwing hand. He finished the year with a .252 TAv and -0.1 WARP; talk about making a miserable first impression.
Teahen is one of those hitters who has always posted a batting average on balls in play north of .300. Despite the ability to maintain an above-average BABIP, Teahen struggles with making contact. The result is a batting average that will never be an asset to a fantasy owner.
Despite owning a career .328 BABIP, Teahen has a lifetime .268 batting average.
While Teahen struggles with making contact, it’s not as if he’s an undisciplined hitter. He has a decent knowledge of the strike zone, drawing a walk in just over eight percent of his plate appearances (right in line with league averages). It’s just that he has a difficult time handling off-speed pitches. He swung and missed at 16 percent of both sliders and change-ups, while putting just 14 percent of those pitches in play. That’s not how a hitter will find success.
Power has never been Teahen’s forte, as he went deep once every 42 at bats per entering the 2010 season, but last summer he really struggled homering, sending the ball over the fence just once every 58 at bats. A player struggling to find his power in The Cell is noteworthy—Teahen slugged just .371 at home, and .393 on the road, the combination of which resulted in his worst slugging percentage since his rookie campaign six seasons prior. It’s not like he can blame the absence of power on his injury either—he was slugging just .387 when he broke his finger.
Another issue is Teahen’s fielding. Although he was a third baseman for most of his career, he shifted to the outfield for his sophomore season and has seen time at first and second as well. The Sox decided early on that Teahen would return to his natural position of third, but he struggled defensively making the adjustment. His range has disappeared—FRAA had him at -6 at third in 2009, 0 at third and -2 in right in 2010, with a projected -3 at third for 2011—and he also uncorked six throwing errors in just over 400 innings at third. Scoresheet has Teahen rated at 2.58, which is worse than every other American League third baseman, save Edwin Encarnacion, who, by the way, is nicknamed "E5" for a reason.
PECOTA is projecting a line of .258/.326/.396 for Teahen with a .254 TAv. Included in the projection is an estimate of 11 home runs. I’d feel a little better about the home run estimate if he showed any kind of ability to take advantage of his home yard.
If Brent Morel wins
Kevin Goldstein hung a four-star rating on Morel and noted he’s a “makeup” type of player who gets the most out of his tools. Morel really pushed his way through the Chicago system as he hit .321/.371/.435 in Double-A and didn’t miss a beat when he was promoted to Triple-A, posting a slash line of .320/.348/.503.
Morel is one of those steady, yet unspectacular players who does nothing extraordinarily well but should provide solid production across the board. He has an average amount of power but hasn’t exhibited the plate discipline in the minors that leads you to believe he can make the power leap in the majors. Last year, he walked in 6.4 percent of his plate appearances in Double-A and in just four percent of his plate appearances in Triple-A. Like Teahen, he’s going to struggle with his contact and that will ultimately keep his average depressed.
With a line drive swing, he’s currently not much of a power threat either. He clubbed 10 home runs in roughly 525 plate appearances in the minors last summer. However, almost six years younger than Teahen, he has upside, and may eventually take advantage of The Cell and develop a home run stroke. The upside for a rookie campaign seems to be in the neighborhood of 15 home runs.
He’s a better defender than Teahen, although in his limited playing time in the majors, Scoresheet rates his defense at an ever-so-slightly below average 2.63. Rob McQuown pegged Morel as a solid value pick at the end of January, and I concur. He’s not going to set the fantasy world on fire, but he will certainly provide some quality in deeper leagues.
PECOTA has Morel at .272/.308/.417 and a TAv of .254. That’s almost an exact match of the projected output for Teahen, but PECOTA gives Morel the advantage in batting average. It’s a 14 point edge, but given his lack of plate discipline and his strikeout rate, I doubt that if you gave each player 500 plate appearances, Morel would be that superior to Teahen in the batting average department.
Teahen is a marginal fantasy player who garners consideration only in the deepest of fantasy leagues. At this point, he’s a high-priced placeholder where, if he wins the job, he’s holding the third base position only until Morel proves he can handle the every day rigors of major league life. Morel may not win the job outright in Arizona, but he will take over from Teahen at some point in the season. If you have the ability to stash Morel on your roster, he’s a low-cost risk worth taking.