Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Christopher Morel’s fit, Wrigley-like conditions, plus a funny interaction with Seiya Suzuki
MESA, Ariz. — Much like he did during most of his rookie campaign, Christopher Morel is keeping an open mind.
“I’ve continued to be prepared for whatever they need me [for],” Morel said through Cubs education coordinator and translator José Menendez. “My job is to be here to go in and play where I’m wanted.”
Where he plays isn’t as defined as it might’ve been when the season ended last October. The Cubs made numerous offseason additions to reinforce their lineup — they added Cody Bellinger to play center field, Dansby Swanson to play shortstop and moving Nico Hoerner to second base and Edwin Ríos, who figures to mix into the third base competition this offseason. Morel could be competing for the backup role in center, second and shortstop, while competing for the third base job with Ríos, Patrick Wisdom and Nick Madrigal.
“There’s just definitely more set positions now,” Ross said Wednesday. “We’ve got some more established players.”
Morel had a strong start to his major-league career, posting an .801 OPS with 9 home runs, 9 stolen bases and 29 RBI from May 17 (his debut) until July 31. He reached base safely in the first 22 games of his big-league career and did so playing at 5 different positions.
But he struggled with strikeouts — he had 137 in that first season — and hit .183 over the last two months of the season.
“A couple of months there, he was swinging the bat really well and had some adversity in there, too,” Ross said. “He’s still, for me, [got] very much a bright future ahead.”
Morel strived to improve that. He added weight this offseason and zeroed in on his plate discipline this winter back home in the Dominican Republic.
“Just preparing for the long season ahead,” Morel said. “Also just focused on understanding home plate, trying to be as consistent as possible to command the plate when I’m at bat.”
Wrigley Field preview?
Spring Training is meant to prepare players and teams for the regular season.
Wednesday at Sloan Park, Eric Hosmer and the Cubs had a different kind of preparation for the season — Wrigley Field-like conditions. The weather in Mesa topped out at 57 degrees, but the wind-gusts that sat regularly between 20 and 30 miles per hour and occasionally touched the 40-mph range made it a perfect preview of what it’s like playing at the Friendly Confines.
“There’s definitely gonna be days where the ball’s flying around a lot,” new Cub Hosmer said. “I think that’s a real element that we’re gonna face at Wrigley this year. It’s definitely a good day to prepare for that.”
Hosmer had one ball during batting practice that he put a charge on — and the elements made it even more eye-popping. With the wind blowing out heavily to right field on Field 1, the lefty hit a towering shot that cleared the netting protecting the parking lot and street that separate Field 1 from Sloan Park. The ball appeared to land somewhere beyond the street and in front of Sloan Park.
“It felt good,” Hosmer said with a smile. “If we can get some wind like this, just get the ball in the air and let the wind do the work.”
There were some side effects to those gusts, too. During batting practice, lefty Edwin Rios punched a seemingly routine fly ball to right field, but the wind knocked the ball down and it dropped just past the infield dirt at shortstop.
Again, another Wrigley-like day.
“The first two times I played at Wrigley, the first day was cold, wind blowing in, then I saw ball go to left field and it almost looked like it got thrown into shortstop and then the next day it was just jetting straight out,” Hosmer said. “I know it’s gonna be two different extremes. I know it kinda switches day to day, but something we gotta be aware of.”
Medical, clubhouse staff moves
The Cubs announced a series of moves to their clubhouse and medical staff on Wednesday.
Dr. Stephen Gryzlo was named head team physician. He was the team’s orthopedist for the last 19 seasons. Dr. Christopher Hogrefe was named the head team internist after eight years as team physician. Gryzlo moves into the role after longtime Cubs physician Dr. Stephen Adams retired Tuesday.
PJ Mainville was promoted to director of medical services after 10 years as head athletic trainer and Nick Frangella was elevated to head athletic trainer. Neil Rampe joins the team as assistant athletic trainer and German Suncin was promoted to the same role.
Brittany Jones rejoins the Cubs organization as performance nutrition and food service manager after overseeing Kansas City’s minor league nutrition program in 2022.
Danny Mueller was promoted to home clubhouse and equipment manager after five seasons as home clubhouse assistant manager. Matt Zaruba was promoted to assistant home clubhouse and equipment manager.
Otis Hellmann, who is in his 50th season in major league baseball and 40th with the Cubs, was named home clubhouse manager emeritus.
Quote of the Day
When Morel reported to camp, he saw Seiya Suzuki — who had added 20 pounds this offseason and looked bulkier — complimented him and shared his plans for next offseason.
“I’m gonna be as big as [you],” Morel told Suzuki.
Suzuki warned him.
“’No, don’t do that. You’re just gonna get slow,’” the outfielder responded.