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How the Cubs are working to find a position for one of their young sluggers

8 months agoAndy Martinez

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Cubs have been in search of a positional home for Christopher Morel.

They hope to find it at first base in his native Dominican Republic while playing winter ball.

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer met with media for an hour at the GM Meetings at the Omni resort Wednesday and shared the Cubs’ plan for the 24-year-old slugger.

“It’s an ongoing conversation, but we’ve talked a lot about finding him a home and I do think we wanna give him some work at first and see how he reacts to that,” Hoyer said. “I mean he’s shown he can play third, he can play second, he can play in the outfield, but finding a home for him is something that would be really valuable. That’s something we’ve talked about.”

First base was a struggle for the Cubs in 2023. They signed veterans Trey Mancini (.635 OPS, 4 HR, -1.4 bWAR) and Eric Hosmer (.610 OPS, 2 HR, -0.5 bWAR) in the offseason to fill the spot in a platoon role, but neither did so. Hot-hitting prospect Matt Mervis struggled in his first go in the majors, posting a .531 OPS with 3 home runs in 99 plate appearances.

The Cubs had to turn to Cody Bellinger in the second half of the season to man the position, with Jeimer Candelario and Patrick Wisdom having some starts in there, too.

Entering 2024 with Bellinger now a free agent, first base is definitely a position of need for the team.

It’s not because the Cubs don’t believe in Morel’s ability to play other positions, per se, but more so the construction of the team.

“I think he’s a very capable second baseman,” Hoyer said. “We have a guy that’s won a Gold Glove [Nico Hoerner], so that’s not the spot we’re gonna put him.

“I think another team might be able to put him there and have him do that. I think it’s both marrying those things. We have really two capable corner outfielders [Ian Happ, Seiya Suzuki]. I think that’s why some of the conversations around first base make sense because it kinda fits what we need a little bit and fits our needs and potentially his needs.”

The Cubs figure to be active in both the free agent and trade markets this offseason as they look to improve upon the team and Morel’s positional versatility could appeal to teams looking for a second or third baseman.

Morel took reps at first base throughout the season before games, in addition to his work at other spots around the diamond. But doing so consistently, along with game reps in a high-intensity setting, could allow him to grow into the role.

“I think with that position, too, you gotta put a lot of work into a game,” Hoyer said. “The hard part about first base is that it certainly doesn’t require a lot of the things a second base or third base do, but the footwork around the bag, understanding the positioning and things like that can be really challenging. So, I think that’s a big part of it.”

Morel’s winter ball rights are held by the Águilas Cibaeñas, who drafted him in the second round of the 2019 draft. It’s the same team where current Cub Alexander Canario plays. When Morel starts playing in the Dominican is undetermined. He’ll get time at various positions, but the crux of his work will be done at first.

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