23 for ’23: What role will Christopher Morel have on the 2023 Cubs?
Between position battles, roster additions and new rules, there are plenty of questions surrounding the 2023 Cubs. We attempt to provide answers for 23 of the most intriguing questions heading into the season.
MESA, Ariz. — From his very first at-bat last season, Christopher Morel emerged as one of the Cubs’ best stories in 2022 and became an immediate fan favorite.
His ever-present smile and infectious attitude combined with his unique story made him the perfect player for the fanbase amid a rebuilding season on the North Side.
It didn’t hurt that he hit .283 with an .850 OPS, 9 homers and 9 stolen bases during his first two months in “The Show.”
The Cubs were aggressive this offseason, adding established veterans with pedigrees and track records all over the diamond. With each new signing, Morel fell further and further down the depth chart and his path to regular playing time in Chicago became murky.
Shortly after he was called up, Morel saw a bunch of playing time in center field. But the Cubs signed Cody Bellinger to be the everyday center fielder in 2023.
As last season wore on, Morel started playing more in the infield but the Cubs added Dansby Swanson at shortstop, which pushed Nico Hoerner to second base and that pushed Nick Madrigal to a new position in third base.
Swanson has missed just 1 game over the past three seasons and even if he has to be sidelined, Hoerner would presumably be the fill-in at the infield’s most important position.
At second base, Morel has to contend with Madrigal and Zach McKinstry for time behind Hoerner. At third base, Morel is competing with Madrigal, McKinstry, newcomer Edwin Rios and incumbent Patrick Wisdom. (To make matters more complicated, the Cubs also traded for utility infielder Miles Mastrobuoni in November.)
So where does all this leave Morel for 2023?
“There’s just definitely more set positions now,” David Ross said. “I think Christopher’s got a bright future ahead of him. We’ll see where this Spring Training takes him. We’ve got some more established players.
“I think he can bounce around the outfield for us, be a fourth outfielder. Could be a utility player. He can play pretty much any infield position probably besides first — we haven’t put him [in] that. But there’s also still a lot of growth potential there for him.
“We’ll see how everything shakes out for spring and health. But I think Christopher put himself on the map with some really good swings. A couple of months there he was swinging the bat really well and had some adversity in there, too. He still, for me, very much has a bright future ahead.”
Morel has been through a lot in the Cubs organization but he’s still only 23 years old and has played just 10 games at the Triple-A level. He has impressed those within the organization for years and made the most of his time at the alternate site in 2020 and in the minors in 2021.
It would have been hard for the Cubs to dream up a better first few months in the big leagues for Morel last season after he made the jump to the big leagues. But he also struggled down the stretch (.163 AVG, 36.5% strikeout rate over his last 55 games).
Morel’s first taste of MLB life gave him plenty to work on over the offseason.
“I learned a lot,” he said through Cubs education coordinator Jose Menendez. “I learned a lot from veterans. I learned a lot from Willson [Contreras], who helped me.
“Then, during the offseason, learned how to be consistent, learned the routine, how to be disciplined in everything that we’re doing.”
Morel put on some muscle in the offseason to help better prepare for a full season and focused on improving his command of the strike zone. He said his goals for 2023 included more walks, fewer strikeouts and more stolen bases.
Depending on how the roster shakes out this spring, it’s certainly possible the Cubs determine that the best thing for Morel’s development is to get everyday experience in Triple-A instead of filling a backup role in Chicago.
But even if Morel starts the season in the minors, expect him to play a role at some point in the big-league season. The Cubs used 64 different players last season and set a franchise record by utilizing 69 players in 2021 so they understand they’ll need to dip into their depth at every level of the roster in 2023.
23 for ’23 series
What will the Cubs’ new era at catcher look like?
What is the Cubs’ plan at third base?
Who steps up in the wake of the Seiya Suzuki injury?
What role will Christopher Morel have on the 2023 Cubs?
Who will win the Cubs’ 5th starter spot?
Where does Nick Madrigal fit on the roster?
Who will close for the Cubs?
What kind of impact will Dansby Swanson have in his first season in Chicago?