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Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Christopher Morel has a set defensive focus at Cubs Camp

5 months agoAndy Martinez

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MESA, Ariz. — Christopher Morel’s bat proved he belonged at the major league level. His defense, though, made him somewhat of a nomad. So, the Cubs spent all offseason trying to find Morel a defensive home.

They hope a full Spring Training will help him find it at the hot corner.

“I think my idea at the start of camp is to kind of focus mainly at third base,” manager Craig Counsell said. “Let’s see where we’re at, let’s evaluate that as we go, but let’s give him a chance at third base and let’s give him some consistency at third base.

“[Then] see where we’re at kind of roster-wise at some point in camp and then go forward from there.”

Morel has played 180.2 innings at third base in his two seasons, posting a -4 Defensive Runs Saved and a -4 Outs Above Average. He has a .911 fielding percentage at the hot corner. He’s been a below-average defender per advanced metrics like DRS and OAA at all 6 positions he’s played in the big leagues.

“To say he can play a lot of positions, yes,” Counsell said. “We have to play them at a certain level that it makes sense for the bat to be in there, right? And it is harder to play multiple positions, no question about it.”

The hope is that consistent reps at one spot will help him develop into a dependable fielder at that spot.

In the offseason, he manned the hot corner for the Aguilas Cibaeñas in the Dominican Winter League in 22 games (16 starts). He had a .934 fielding percentage in 162.2 innings.

During winter ball, the Cubs had Morel take some reps at first base, too, a position he’s never played at the professional level. The hope was that it could be a two-folded solution for the team — it would keep Morel’s bat in the lineup and answer a question mark for a position of need. Staff assistant Jonathan Mota went to the Dominican Republic in the offseason to work with Morel at first base, but Morel didn’t appear in a game there during his playing time.

His work at the position was solid, but it was hard to gauge just how exactly it would translate from a controlled environment into actual game speed.

The Cubs have been flexible in their approach to Morel’s defensive home throughout the offseason. Jed Hoyer initially mentioned first base at the General Managers meetings in November. At the Winter Meetings in December, Counsell touted the positional versatility that someone like Morel could bring. At Cubs Convention last month, general manager Carter Hawkins downplayed the necessity to find him a set home. Now, the Cubs will use the next six weeks or so to try and get third base down.

“I think there’ll be some first base for Chris but I think I’d like to see him at third base to start camp,” Counsell said. “Christopher’s done so much with the bat, that it’s our job to figure out the best way to deploy him, right?”

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So, who’s on first?

With Morel seemingly destined for the hot corner it begs the question — who mans first? In January the Cubs acquired Michael Busch and he’s expected to play primarily at first. The Cubs will look to platoon him with Patrick Wisdom.

“Patrick’s in some competition this spring, and we’re probably gonna ask him to try some new things,” Counsell said. “A little more first base we’ll ask him to try.

“It’s a bat that’s really handled left-handed pitching, produced against left-handed pitching. And you take note of that.”

Of course, that picture could change if the Cubs reunite with Cody Bellinger.

If that’s the case, the Cubs can use Bellinger in center, keep the platoon of Busch and Wisdom at first and top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong in Triple-A to continue to develop. The tricky part of that hypothetical becomes when Crow-Armstrong is recalled to the majors.

Counsell would likely use matchups and rest to fit the best matchups in the lineup — Bellinger at first, Crow-Armstrong at center, Busch at the DH spot against righties and Wisdom as the DH against lefties.

Live hitting

Saturday was the first day of live batting practice this week for Cubs pitchers. Kyle Hendricks and Javier Assad threw live sessions to Nico Hoerner, Wisdom, Mike Tauchman and Nick Madrigal.

Before the session started with Hendricks, Hoerner quipped to Madrigal and Tauchman that he wasn’t going to swing at the first pitch he got from the veteran. When Tauchman, the leadoff hitter in the live session, went to the plate, he promptly popped out on the first pitch he saw.

[WATCH: Kyle Hendricks and Javier Assad’s full live batting practices]

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