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The most impressive part of Christopher Morel’s hot start with Cubs

4 months agoTony Andracki

No matter what happens from here, Christopher Morel’s name will always show up in record books — both for the Cubs franchise and around Major League Baseball.

The rookie’s first three weeks in the big leagues has been nothing short of miraculous.

Take this stat, for example:

Since 1906, Morel is the only player in all of baseball to notch at least 11 hits, 6 walks, 8 runs, 2 homers and 3 stolen bases in his first 10 MLB games.

Then there’s the on-base streak, which has received most of the attention — deservedly so.

It’s been over a week since Morel set the Cubs franchise record by reaching base safely in his first 14 MLB games.

He has since extended that streak to 21 games, which he accomplished by smacking the first pitch of Tuesday night’s game into the bleachers at Camden Yards (which his former teammate caught). Since 2000, only Rocco Baldelli (24 games in 2003) has a longer streak to begin a career.

Here’s another one for you, just for fun:

Those are all pretty impressive feats, but maybe the most remarkable thing about Morel is how he’s found success in the majors in the early going.

With 2 strikes this season, the league is hitting .166 with a .242 on-base percentage and .259 slugging percentage (.501 OPS).

Morel is slashing .239/.357/.457 (.814 OPS) with 2 strikes.

“It’s amazing, man,” Kyle Hendricks said. “To be able to slow the game down like that right away — it just shows how natural the game comes. There’s guys that were just meant to play baseball. He’s definitely just a baseball player.

“Those are guys you love having around. Everyone can feed off of that. The energy he brings, what he’s been doing at the top of the order for us, it’s unbelievable.”

A perfect example of the advanced 2-strike approach was Morel’s debut. He got down quickly 0-2 before laying off 3 pitches outside the zone. On the 6th pitch of the at-bat, he connected and sent an absolute missile nearly out of Wrigley Field.

We saw that same mature approach at the plate on Morel’s first walk-off on June 1. Again, he got down 0-2 but took a deep breath to refocus, laid off a close pitch and then lifted a ball for the game-winning sacrifice fly.

He had some help there, of course, as the viral moment with Willson Contreras was captured on camera:

Need another example?

In the 6th inning of Game 2 last Saturday at Wrigley Field, Morel fell behind in the count 1-2 against Cardinals ace reliever Ryan Helsley, who routinely touches 100 mph on the radar gun.

Morel fouled a pitch off, let a couple of close ones go by for balls and then deposited a slider into left field for a game-tying RBI double.

These are the types of at-bats you would expect from perennial MVP candidates. Not a 22-year-old who just made the jump from Double-A to the majors.

And certainly not this often. These mature, productive at-bats have become routine for Morel.

“It continues to happen,” David Ross said. “The takes — he doesn’t get outside of his zone, he stays true to his strike zone. There’s some swing-and-miss there. It’s not chasing outside the zone. It’s not too high. It’s not too low.

“The moment — people get on their feet or he gets behind 0-2 and there’s guys with really good sliders over there, some guys with some really good stuff and he’s been able to what we would call spit on some pitches that are borderline. He’s done a really nice job of that. That’s hard to do. That’s why I’ve been impressed with that.

“Being on the fastball and being on the slider and having your swing in the zone is one thing. But then taking those borderline pitches when you’re behind in the count and not panicking is extremely difficult.”

What may be as impressive as the results is how far Morel has come to get to this point.

Improving plate discipline is one of the hardest skills for young hitters to acquire. Freeswinging minor league players don’t often grow up to become patient MLB hitters.

Just a few short seasons ago in 2018, Morel had 93 plate appearances with short-season Class-A Eugene over 25 games. He did not draw a single walk.

In 2019, Morel walked 11 times in 278 plate appearances at Class-A South Bend (4% walk rate).

He already has 11 walks in the majors in only 97 plate appearances, good for an above-average 11.3% walk rate.

It was in South Bend in 2019 where Morel’s career took a turn.

Former big leaguer Paul McAnulty was the hitting coach for the Cubs’ affiliate back then and he helped institute the breath Morel takes throughout at-bats — the same breath Contreras helped remind him about.

“[McAnulty] told me, ‘when you’re studying and you’re concentrating to the next pitch, this is going to help you for the future,'” Morel said.

So Morel — who was in his age-20 season at the time — took that to heart and practiced his breathing every single day.

He also developed a change to his stance in the box.

Take these shots from Tuesday night’s game. In the first one, Morel is getting ready for the first pitch of the at-bat and he’s a lot taller and more upright with his stance:

Morel No Strikes

Later in the game when the count gets to 2 strikes, there’s more bend in Morel’s knees. He’s preparing his body the same way he prepares his mind:

Morel 2 Strikes

Some players choke up with 2 strikes; Morel crouches down.

He adopted that stance adjustment in South Bend in 2019 around the same time he developed the breathing routine.

“I like to swing a lot and just make something happen,” Morel said. “But a combination of learning, experience, some guys like Contreras and the hitting coaches — they told me this a lot: ‘Try to be disciplined at home plate, not trying too much. Trust yourself and trust your talent. Be you and have fun.'”

Is it ever hard for him to be patient at the plate?

“Two years ago, yeah [it was hard to be patient],” Morel said. “But right now, every pitch, every time, I try to rest and breathe and concentrate on the next pitch. It’s helped me a lot.”

And Morel has done all this with a sense of passion and wholesome innocence:

“His energy is awesome,” Jed Hoyer said. “He’s just a positive guy.”

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