It’s been a long, challenging, productive season so far for Chicago Cubs rookie Christopher Morel. He’s getting the night off, and I’d say he deserves it.
I had Morel and his season on the brain this morning because his game last night – MLB game 100 for him – really exemplified what we’ve seen from him this year, good and bad: he crushed a dinger, he filled in at shortstop, and he made an ugly mistake.
It’s the mix of things we’ve seen from the talented and versatile 23-year-old super utility man, and when you remember his youth, limited experience, and the demands being placed on him, the year is all the more impressive.
To that end, some praise for Christopher Morel from David Ross (Cubs.com):
“He’s definitely shown some sparks of greatness at shortstop, been really clean at second base, and I think there’s still some work to do at third. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, and I think he’s played an average center field, but can grow in that area too… We’ve asked a lot of the young man this year and he’s stepped up to every challenge… I think his future is really bright, and the fact that he’s got multiple positions he can play, and has played them in the big leagues, is a positive.”
Through his first 100 big league games, Morel is hitting .237/.309/.428/106 wRC+, and the underlying metrics suggest he’s pretty much earned exactly that. Given his age, experience, and role, that looks pretty darn solid to me.
Speaking of which, I have been very impressed by how Morel has looked at shortstop this past week while covering for Nico Hoerner, especially after months and months of essentially not playing the position WHILE trying to handle the other positions WHILE trying to be a big league hitter making constant adjustments having barely played at all at Triple-A (heck, he skipped High-A, so he’s only played 138 games TOTAL above Low-A!). To just step in and play a capable shortstop – yes, yes, the error last night – is so impressive.
Even if the bat has fallen off and even if there is still development work to be done defensively, this has been a great year for Morel, and it’s fun to think about his future.
There aren’t too many players out there who can capably handle every non-catcher defensive position, and the ones who can do it while wielding a league average bat are hugely valuable. That’s all you need to hope Morel is next year. And if the bat does tick up into that consistently 110-120 wRC+ range? Well then you’ve got Chris Taylor, who, by the way, didn’t become that guy until he was 26, or three years older than Morel is now.
Fun fact on Taylor? He put up a season with the Mariners at age 23 that was very similar to what Morel is doing now (albeit in a smaller sample). He then got minimal big league playing time (while raking at Triple-A), the Dodgers stole him for Zach Lee (long after he was a big name), and then he broke out at 26.
So I guess the lesson there is take it easy on dumping Morel if he needs time at Triple-A next year, and/or the next year? You can’t roster him on the 40-man forever if he’s not contributing, but given his abbreviated development window and how many different things the Cubs have asked him to do, a little more leeway – next year, especially – would be advised. The guy is clearly talented as heck.
So, in sum: great first 100 games, Christopher. Enjoy your night off.