Are you getting tired of reading about Christopher Morel?
Good, because he just keeps on giving us reasons to write about him, talk about him, and just generally enjoy the spark he’s provided the Cubs since he made his big league debut on May 17.
We already saw him hit a home run in his first at-bat that night, matching what Willson Contreras did in his first at-bat nearly six years earlier (and becoming the first Cub since Contreras to do so). With a fourth-inning walk during the Cubs’ 8-7 win over the Brewers on Tuesday, he surpassed another mark Contreras set for rookie excellence.
Contreras wasn’t aware that his record was broken, but he’s been one of Morel’s biggest cheerleaders since Morel got his first call-up to the majors. The smile on his face — and his “that’s awesome” reaction when he got the news — said all that needed to be said about what he’s thought of Morel’s play and the energy he’s brought to the Cubs since his debut.
There’s a reason manager David Ross has gone with Morel leading off over the past eight games. Morel is consistently putting great at-bats together, giving the Cubs the type of leadoff hitter who regularly gives himself a chance to get on base. And considering Ross often slots Contreras — who’s having one of the best seasons of his career at the plate — right after him in the lineup, having that type of consistent bat to set the table is simply a luxury the Cubs are doing their best to reap the benefits of.
“He’s been nothing but amazing,” Contreras said. “Since he got called up, he got real comfortable. He’s being himself. That’s huge for us. As a young player, he’s not afraid of failing, and he’s very aggressive at the plate. Batting behind him, I have to be ready, because once I get to the on-deck circle, he’s already swinging. That means a lot to me. He’s getting on base, he’s having great at-bats. He doesn’t give anything away.”
It’s funny that Contreras mentions the early swinging, because it’s become very obvious that Morel has no problem being aggressive early in the count.
On the first pitch he saw on Tuesday, Morel hit a rocket to right field that forced Milwaukee’s Tyrone Taylor to make an impressive catch to not give him a chance to show that same aggressiveness on the base paths.
But he’s not afraid to wait for his pitch, either. He came into Tuesday seeing nearly four pitches per plate appearance. He’s taken eight walks through his first 62 plate appearances, good for a 12.9% walk rate. It’s that combination of aggressiveness and patience that’s already made him Ross’ preferred leadoff man.
“He’s playing the game with a lot of passion, almost that saying of ‘playing with your hair on fire,'” Ross said. “But he’s calm in the box, he’s taking his walks. When the ball touches his bat, when he gets ready to throw the ball, when he goes after the ball, there’s a lot of electricity in there.”
Glad you used the word “electricity” there, Rossy, because that’s another reason why fans have taken such a liking to Morel so early in his career.
In the sixth inning, Morel smoked another ball in Taylor’s direction, only this time, Taylor couldn’t get it in his glove as he crashed into the ivy-covered wall. Morel sprinted around the bases, sliding into third base for the first triple of his career. Only this was no ordinary slide. As Morel reached the bag, he slid around it, grabbed it on the side and popped up with gusto.
Does that remind you of anyone?
“What stood out to me, the triple there, sliding past the bag and popping up — that exact slide reminded me of Javy,” Ross said, reminiscing on the kinds of things Javier Báez did during his time with the Cubs that earned him unconditional love from the fans.
I actually reminded Ross of something he once said about Báez, that he played the game like a kid and “that’s why a lot of people fall in love with him.” I hadn’t even finished my question — which was asking if Morel gave him that same vibe — and Ross already knew who I was referring to, chuckling and giving a quick “Morel” under his breath before I could even mention his name.
It’s true, Morel does give off “El Mago” vibes, and in more than just his electric personality. Not only is he an excellent outfielder, but he’s already shown that he can play exceptionally well at shortstop and second base, the two positions Báez played at a Gold Glove-level on the North Side.
“They have some of the same energy, same flow,” Contreras said.
“They’re different people. Morel is more vocal, I would say. He’s going to be good.”
He’s already been good, hitting .283 with an .878 OPS and nine runs, five RBIs, and six extra-base hits just two weeks into his big league career, not to mention the fact that he’s currently riding an 11-game hitting streak. But it feels like the conversation always comes back to Morel’s flair, the same flair Báez once provided to the Cubs that’s now coming from a 22-year-old not even three weeks removed from playing in Double-A.
“I know the energy he brings,” said Patrick Wisdom, whose eighth-inning solo shot proved to be the difference on Tuesday. “I know the fun that he has when he plays this game, the excitement he has, and it’s infectious. It’s contagious. I know I feed off it, just because he’s so positive and just fun to be around.”
With any rookie success inevitably comes rookie struggles. The league gets more data and better scouting reports, and pitchers begin to adjust. Everyone goes through it. Just because Morel hasn’t yet doesn’t mean he won’t.
If that time comes, Ross and Co. will help him learn. That’s their job. But for now, the only thing Ross feels he needs to do is just continue to let Morel prove himself at this level.
“Why would we talk about the negative stuff? You don’t,” Ross said. “You pat guys on the back when they’re doing great, and when adversity hits, you’re there to pick them up when they fall and talk about maybe an experience you have that you can relate to, or a moment of teaching and learning through adversity. But when somebody is doing great, you just sit back and watch.”
Morel has been everything the Cubs could’ve asked for when they gave him the opportunity to show what he’s got, but that opportunity came because of the mounting injuries that have taken their toll on the roster. Many of those players who’ve spent time on the injured list are eligible to return over the next week, and most of them are position players who will need some playing time.
Any stretch of struggles could give the Cubs reason to option Morel back to the minors and give him ample time to work on some of the things he experienced while he’s been up in the majors.
For what it’s worth, Morel hasn’t given us any reason to believe that he can’t be the outlier, and at least one current Cub believes he’s earned the right to keep playing at the highest level of baseball.
“This game is about adjustments,” Contreras said. “At some point, (teams are) going to make an adjustment on him, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to be able to make those adjustments back.
“I’m happy to have Morel on this team, and I think he deserves to stay.”