TAMPA, Fla. — Brent Morel was excited to join the Toronto Blue Jays in December. Although he was thankful for everything the Chicago White Sox, the team that drafted him, had done, he looked forward to a fresh start.
That fresh start lasted about two months. His union with the Pirates represents his second new beginning as the 26-year-old third baseman begins another fight for a roster spot.
“I’m even more excited to be here,” Morel said. “It’s a good fit for me, just a great group of guys.”
The Blue Jays claimed Morel off waivers from the White Sox, but designated him for assignment Feb. 21 when they claimed right-hander Liam Hendriks. The Pirates grabbed Morel, designating infielder Chase d’Arnaud for assignment so they could put Morel on the 40-man roster.
The Pirates had tracked Morel since 2011, when he spent the entire season in the major leagues, manager Clint Hurdle said. They considered him when he went on waivers in December, as well.
“It’s definitely nice to know that you’re still wanted,” Morel said. “[If] I didn’t clear [waivers], worst-case scenario I’d have been back [in Toronto], but it’s nice to feel somebody wants you and thinks you could help their 25-man team.”
Pedro Alvarez will play nearly every day, and Josh Harrison can play third base in addition to middle infield and some outfield, complicating Morel’s path to the active roster. Morel has one minor league option remaining, so he could start the season at Class AAA Indianapolis.
“What was our best Plan B in case something happened to Pedro, where he would not be available for a certain period of time?” Hurdle said. “We have in-house options, but we thought this is a good guy to take a shot at based on the volume of work that we saw.”
Morel has played 187 of his 190 games in the majors at third base. He has played every infield position in the minors, albeit sparingly. Hurdle said the Pirates might have him work at first base.
“I think I’m just going to get a chance to compete for a job,” Morel said. “I know they need some right-handed hitters. I can play third, second, first, kind of move around. Hopefully end up on that final 25.”
The White Sox chose Morel in the third round in 2008 out of Cal Poly. He earned a September call-up in 2010 after hitting a combined .322 with 10 home runs between Class AA Birmingham and Class AAA Charlotte. In 2011, he earned a spot on the active roster and stayed there the whole season.
“I split time a little bit to start the year and then they traded away the guy I was splitting time with, so I got to play quite a bit,” Morel said. “I felt like it was a good first year, learned the ups and downs and finished strong.”
The player he split time with was Mark Teahen, who went from the White Sox to the Blue Jays July 27 of that year along with Edwin Jackson in exchange for Jason Frasor and Zach Stewart. After the trade, Morel played almost every day in August and September. Though he hit .233 with a .307 on-base percentage in that two-month span, he also hit nine home runs and nine doubles.
He hoped to build on his success in 2012, but had a back injury in spring training.
“I played a little bit here and there and finally went on [the disabled list] in early May, missed the rest of the year,” Morel said.
He spent most of 2013 in Charlotte, where he hit .266 with a .349 on-base percentage, six homers and 30 doubles in 452 plate appearances. The Pirates, always active on the waiver wire, liked what they saw.
“We just felt that that combination of power and hands, solid defender, and his bat has showed up in the big leagues,” Hurdle said.
Morel watched the Pirates in years past and liked what he saw, as well. In the minors, he roomed with Peters Township High School graduate Jim Gallagher and Beaver Falls native Brian Omogrosso, so he followed the team more than usual. He also roots for the Steelers, thanks to his family’s friendship with former linebacker Joey Porter. Porter, like Morel, went to high school in Bakersfield, Calif.
“My dad coached high school football in Bakersfield,” Morel said. “When he got drafted by them, our whole family kind of followed him.”
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.