Christopher Morel Has Destroyed Triple-A Through His First 10 Games This Year
It was never the case that Christopher Morel was not a big-league-caliber player at the end of Spring Training. Sure, maybe there are some rosters out there off of which he would be squeezed by better talent, but for the most part, you’re talking about the kind of versatile, speedy, powerful bench bat any team would love to have available.
That is to say, when Morel didn’t make the big league Cubs to open the 2023 season, it was not a comment on his ability to be a big-league-caliber bench option. He is already that.
But the Cubs believe he can be more. And for a 23-year-old player with limited pro experience, who leapfrogged Triple-A last year to pitch in at the big league level when there was a need, there really isn’t anything unusual with thinking about him still being in the development/prospect phase of his career. The Cubs see a potential super utility starter type in Morel, and, because they aren’t DESPERATE for bench options at the big league level right now, they decided to make a longer-term decision on Morel’s development. I think it was a fair move.
Here’s how Jed Hoyer described the decision to The Athletic: “We want to bring him up to play a lot. Now he might not play one position all the time, but we don’t see him as a bench player. We see him as a guy that can move all over and do a lot of things. It didn’t appear that those at-bats would be there for him early in the season. The coaching staff was really — I don’t want to say insistent — but they felt strongly that he’s a really good player and we really want him playing a lot. Having him as a bench option isn’t the right thing for his career, and probably not the right thing for the length of the season.”
It makes sense to me as a guy who is a big believe in Morel’s potential.
What you need for it to work, though, is complete buy-in from the player. We’ve seen it before – and it’s understandable! – where a guy gets a taste of the big leagues, has some success, and feels like he has no business ever going back down to the minor leagues. That player might struggle when sent down to a lower level. The margins for success, even in the minor leagues, are so slim that being in the wrong headspace for too long can really sink you.
So far, for Christopher Morel, that has not been a problem.
Through his first 10 games at Triple-A Iowa this year, Morel is hitting a whopping .371/.511/.743/216 wRC+. The 28.9% strikeout rate is an issue, and would balloon quite a bit more in the big leagues (he was at 32.2% last year, for what it’s worth), though he’s pairing it with a 20.0% walk rate at the moment. And obviously he’s hitting the bajesus out of the ball, as evidenced by his five doubles, a triple, and two homers already (and an absurd .371 ISO).
I expect a focus for him over the next month or so will be to keep working on that strikeout rate, without sacrificing too much power. He’ll also continue to get defensive reps all over the field. I figure the Cubs will reconsider his spot on the big league roster if/when there’s a need in the near-term, otherwise it’s probably in the plans to let him have a full half-season at Triple-A for development purposes, and then you re-evaluate where things stand in a more comprehensive way at midseason. Even if the focus is development, eventually Morel is going to have to face big league pitching consistently to continue that development. For now, though, the goal is to master Triple-A pitching, and things are off to a good start.