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How Cubs, Christopher Morel have worked to separate his defense and offense

2 months agoAndy Martinez

There’s a certain bravado that Christopher Morel exudes when he steps into the batter’s box.

Morel carries himself with the swagger of a player that knows he can do damage any time he’s at the plate. He showed it Tuesday night in San Diego, crushing his first career grand slam.

“He’s been able to show confidence since he got here at the plate,” major league coach Jonathan Mota said. “He has made adjustments throughout the years he’s been here.”

That offensive prowess is why the Cubs know how important Morel is to their success. And it’s part of the reason they’re committed to giving him a runaway at third base this season in hopes of finding him a defensive home.

“We’re trying to take the same approach on the field, this being one of the first years he’s having a chance to play on the field every day,” Mota added.

Part of Morel’s room for improvement defensively comes from his concentration when he’s out in the field. The Cubs want Morel to visualize each play and assume the ball is being hit to him so that he’s always ready for each situation.

“There’s been a couple of times where he makes a couple of errors,” Mota said. “We know he has the ability and he’s working on staying focused for 130 pitches. More than anything it’s the focus, the work he’s doing. He’s putting himself in a good position to field the ball. Now it’s about the anticipation, who’s running.

“The small things are big things.”

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Mota — whose responsibilities include working with infield defense — and the Cubs are also trying to improve Morel by using positive reinforcement. That comes in the form of words of encouragement, but video review, too.

Take, for example, last Wednesday night’s series finale against the Rockies. As rain started peppering Wrigley Field, playing conditions became less than ideal. With 2 outs in the top of the 6th and runners at first and second, Nolan Jones hit a groundball to Morel at third. Morel fielded the ball and then rifled it past Michael Busch at first base, going out of play for an error that led to a run.

Two pitches later, Michael Toglia hit another groundball right to him. This time, Morel fielded it, took a second to set his feet and fired a strike to Busch to end the inning.

“We talked about, ‘OK what happened when you threw the ball away?’ ‘It was wet. You had more time,’” Mota said. “The next play, that’s the one we show him. We show him the positive.”

The hope is that encouragement and emphasis on positivity will lead to confidence on the field for Morel. It’s a confidence that he’s trying to perfect.

“Every time I come to the ballpark, I always have the mentality of ‘I can accomplish everything,’” Morel said. “If God gave me the opportunity to be here again, it’s because God and the team, the organization believe that I can do it. So, if they believe in me, but I don’t believe in myself, it doesn’t mean anything.

“So, I believe in myself and my future and these upcoming days I’ll keep improving. Of course, the confidence in oneself is huge.”

He isn’t a finished product at third base defensively. The Cubs knew he wouldn’t be at the end of Spring Training. It was always going to be a work in progress this season and he’s shown it — he has 3 errors this season. But he hasn’t allowed that to affect his ability at the plate. This season he’s hitting .326/.370/.605 with 3 home runs, 10 RBI and a 161 weighted runs-created plus and is quickly developing himself into a force in the middle of Craig Counsell’s lineup.

“That’s a blessing for Chris, right?” Counsell said. “That’s just a function of who he is as a person. And it’s a great trait. We wish we all had that, for sure. And it’s a positive outlook that really just keeps you going and keeps you working. And it’s a great trait.”

Morel admits he hasn’t perfected it — it’s just the natural human intuition that forces you to second-guess yourself. But he’s taken a short-memory approach that’s allowing him to succeed at the plate and continue to refine his defensive craft.

“I try to focus on the present,” Morel said. “Things that have already happened — whether it’s a home run or a strikeout, a good play or an error — simply it happened already. Just focus on the moment at hand.”

And when a mistake happens, he’ll lean on Mota, Dansby Swanson and other teammates who will offer a word of encouragement and push him to move forward — something he’ll continue to do all season.

“For me, it means that there’s a person that wants the best for you,” Morel said. “You start taking that from each of them and you start to feel calmer knowing how your teammates think and you try to calm yourself.”

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