What to Expect When You're Expecting Christopher Morel: Big Versatility, Big Tools

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting Christopher Morel: Big Versatility, Big Tools

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ 40-man roster has limited them a bit this season, loaded with prospects who are either injured or not particularly close to the big leagues. It has made finding depth during this period of intense injury problems at the big league level particularly difficult.

However, there was always one player on the 40-man that offered extreme versatility with ready-made big league defensive skills: Christopher Morel. The Cubs are calling up Morel today, per reports. I don’t expect the stay to be long – a week or three – but I do expect David Ross will really like what he sees from the player that Brennen Davis called “an electric factory.”

Morel, 22, would be a top 14 prospect in the Cubs farm system for me right now. He exits Double-A Tennessee having hit .306/.380/.565 during the season’s first six weeks, bouncing between shortstop, center field and third base. He played three other positions (2B, LF, RF) during the 2021 season.

Because the Cubs don’t update heights and weights of minor leaguers during their ascent to the big leagues, you might see some reference today to Morel’s listed height and weight (5-11, 145). It’s incorrect. By a lot. Morel has grown about two inches since then, but more notably, has added at least 35 pounds of muscle. It helped transform what was raw power during the 2018-2019 seasons into real power in 2021-2022.

While far from a perfect comp, Cubs Den’s Michael Ernst and I have always compared the way Morel plays the game – trusting good instincts and twitchy tools – to Javy Báez. Morel is a tick lower in each category, of course, but it’s a good proxy to use in how he conducts his business. The right-handed Morel has some of the system’s best bat speed, and his throwing arm is perhaps the best single tool in the entire farm system.

This stint in the big leagues will likely just be Morel filling in at whatever position is needed, but in the long-term, there’s still some debate about his best home. I have said before that I think Morel could eventually be an elite, near-Gold Glove third baseman, based on his quick first step and elite arm strength. That also translates to solid shortstop play. But Morel can get too aggressive with his throwing arm – which is pure sidearm while playing infield – and too often makes mistakes throwing balls away. This has been better in 2022 than it was in 2021, but still something to watch.

The Cubs always thought Morel would make a good center fielder, and gave him reps there during his stint at the Alternate Training Site in 2020. The returns look really good. His first step isn’t always perfect in the outfield, but he has solid closing speed and has produced his share of highlight reel plays. Two weeks ago, I saw Morel uncork a throw from right-center to third base that not many in the minor leagues are capable of. He has three assists in 62 career games in the outfield.

During this stretch, I do expect Morel to have his share of struggles at the plate. He can hit any fastball (especially from lefties), there’s no doubt about that, and he does so with max exit velocities north of 110 mph. But he’s going to struggle with right-handed breaking balls off the plate, and he’s unlikely to add much value by taking walks. The contact rate has improved this year, and Morel’s hand-eye coordination is enough that he should be able to keep the strikeout rate under 30% in the long-term, but it will likely be the biggest hurdle for him in this large jump from Double-A.

Remember, Morel got a taste of Triple-A late last year, but it was very brief. This is a big jump. It will probably show.

Lastly, the most important thing I want to stress about Morel is that he gets the highest marks for the type of teammate he is. Brennen Davis called him “one of the best dudes in the organization,” and at Spring Training, you see that Morel is someone friendly with everyone. He plays with a smile on his face and is endlessly encouraging and uplifting to those around him. I guarantee those clubhouse traits are playing a role in the call-up today.

Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.