The 21-year-old smoked an 0-2 Alec Mills breaking ball into the left field gap for a double, where he’d subsequently score off a Kris Bryant single:
It really was a great moment that encapsulated Morel so well. He had a big smile as he approached the plate and took a big, giddy head-first slide into second base. While the swing in the video isn’t the prettiest – watchu doin, back foot? – it’s still a high-exit velocity off a big league pitcher in an 0-2 count.
“He gives you everything he has, he’s an electric factory,” Brennen Davis told me recently. “Just the plays he makes, man, it makes the sport fun to watch.”
Morel, who I recently ranked our number 12 prospect in my midseason update, was one of two players the Cubs put on their initial 50-man roster that I hadn’t predicted. Recently, Sahadev Sharma wrote a great piece on the Cubs developmental plans in South Bend (and otherwise), and Director of Player Development Matt Dorey outlined why Morel was selected.
“It’s a really important part of development, being in a competitive environment, learning to deal with the failures the game presents to players,” Dorey told Sharma. “There are so many good teaching moments. We really wanted to maximize that for a few prospects, that’s why we made the decision on Brennen and Chris Morel. Just to get those young hitters that are at important developmental stages to see some live pitching, especially versus live pitching that has a legitimate chance to pitch in the big leagues this year or already have done so in the past. From that perspective, it’s really unique and great.”
Morel, like Davis, was experiencing a breakout season in South Bend last July when a knee injury ended his season. In the final 33 games before the injury, Morel hit .342/.364/.575, as he was beginning to tap into the power that his bat speed creates. Morel is still quite raw, but the instinctual and enthusiastic way he plays the games allows him to thrive anyway. It’s too bad the Cubs had him at DH yesterday, because he couldn’t share the real strength of his game: defense.
Morel has become more selective at the plate. He'll never walk much. as his nature is to attack pitches, but now he is patient enough to wait for strikes. When he gets a pitch in the zone to hit his bat speed allows him to drive the ball out to all fields. pic.twitter.com/gsrGgSkTUn
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) July 9, 2019
Morel also played a little shortstop when he was first signed, and I’ve wondered if the Cubs might try him there during summer camp. It’s tempting to leave him at third base, however, where he has the potential to become a plus-plus defender. Davis joked that because of the sheer number of highlights that Morel creates, “sometimes I forget to back him up.”
Of every player in South Bend, Morel is probably the very least likely to play in the Majors this year, but the South Bend experience will cement he receives a much-needed development year. He’s also going to be a great voice to have around the players. Morel is upbeat and energetic, and has always seemed in my experiences as a guy beloved by teammates.
“First and foremost, Chris Morel is one of the best dudes in the organization,” Brennen said when I asked about Chris. “Always the teammate that has your back. I wasn’t hitting well in BP in Spring Training, and he was the first guy to give me reassurance because I was down on myself.”
It’s a shame we can’t see more of him on video in 2020, but I’m certainly glad he’s in South Bend.