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How the Cubs envision slotting Christopher Morel defensively in 2024

9 months agoJake Mozarsky

Christopher Morel has been one of the most exciting Cubs over the past two years, and he took off offensively during the 2023 season —  Morel’s 26 home runs were tied for the lead on the team with Cody Bellinger, and he was 5th with 70 RBI. 

Additionally, Morel played less games than the Cubs’ other key contributors — he featured in just 107 games and started 101 after being called up from Triple-A Iowa in early May. 

During the Cubs’ stretch run, Morel had more off-days than star players even with his offensive potential, and a lot of that was because there was no natural fit defensively on the field for him. In the team’s pivotal series against the Atlanta Braves, Morel only appeared in 1 of the 3 games against the best offensive and home-run hitting team in the league, in a series where offense was expected to be paramount. Here, Morel’s power might have been too good to pass up on. Though the Cubs didn’t lose all three games because of offense, the question remained the same: if the team is going to use Morel fully, where does he slot in on the field?

Throughout the season, Morel played 7 different positions but struggled to become a constant feature at one place, forcing the Cubs to rely on him primarily as a designated hitter, where he featured in 61 games. Part of that, too, was the Cubs’ situation at other positions — they had proven players at almost every position this season, with third base and first base being the lone exceptions. Jeimer Candelario manned the hot corner after he was acquired at the Trade Deadline and Cody Bellinger played first primarily after Mike Tauchman’s emergence. 

We’re going to keep having conversations about exactly what to have him focus on this winter,” Cubs president of baseball operations Hoyer said in his end-of-season presser. “He’s never really been able to play every single day at one spot. He’s such a good athlete. He’s got a great arm, he’s got good hands, I think it’s both on him but also on us to help him improve as a defender and get to one place.” 

Morel played second base and center field, where he played 19 and 12 games respectively, and also saw time at third, shortstop, right field and left field during the season. But the focus is getting him to a regular, day-to-day position and improving his defensive acumen overall so he can contribute to a team predicated on pitching and defense. 

That could come at third base, where there’s no clear solution or prospect on the horizon for the hot corner. Nick Madrigal started 61 games there in 2023 and was a revelation defensively — his 10 Outs Above Average were 6th in baseball at third base. But he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career and ended the season on the IL and doesn’t have the power that is traditionally associated with the position. 

Morel has manned the hot corner in 156 games in the minor leagues, more than any other position. The Cubs could choose to have him on an offseason regimen at the hot corner like they did with Madrigal or have him continue to take reps in a more competitive environment like the winter leagues.

It is obvious Morel brings firepower on offense. He could alter a game with one swing, such as his walk-off home run against the White Sox at Wrigley Field and a 3-run homer against the Giants in early September. He’s showcased power from early-on: he homered in his first ever MLB at-bat in 2022, and during the first stretch of the 2023 season, he hit 9 home runs in his first 12 games.  

“The power is real. He’s dangerous,” Hoyer said. “We didn’t have a lot of guys in the lineup that could change the score that quickly.” 

Hoyer also recognized how Morel differs from a lot of the Cubs offensively. 

“I think so much of our offense was built around getting on base and singles. We were middle of the pack in terms of home runs but certainly we were not the top, we had a number of guys who hit 20, Hoyer said. “We didn’t have many guys like him that were a threat all the time. That’s real and you want that in the lineup.” 

Now, the question is where Morel will play come Opening Day 2024 and beyond. 

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