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Christopher Morel to focus on third base to start Cubs camp

Ryan Herrera Avatar
February 17, 2024

MESA, Ariz. — Will the Cubs find a defensive position for Christopher Morel in 2024?

That’s been the question surrounding Morel for months. Everyone knows about the offensive upside. Defensively, though, the Cubs haven’t figured out the best way to use him. The potential to be an impact player is there, and the floor for Morel would rise if he can consistently contribute on the defensive side.

“I look at it as this as a young player who’s had a lot of offensive success at an early age,” manager Craig Counsell said Saturday.” We’ve gotta figure out positionally — we don’t gotta decide today — but hopefully get some definition in what we’re asking him to do, defensively. There’s too much offense there to ignore that.”

Morel arrived to the Cubs’ complex in Arizona on Saturday, two days before position players officially report to camp. And with spring training really getting going, a defensive plan for Morel seems to have been figured out — at least for now.

“I’d like to see him at third base I think to start camp,” Counsell said. “Look, Christopher’s done so much with the bat that it’s our job to figure out the best way to deploy him.”

When Morel debuted in 2022, the Cubs spread him all over the field. In 2023, most of his time came as the designated hitter, but it felt like his potential with the bat could be even more valuable if he could also find a position on the field.

Since the start of the offseason, the question about his defensive role hasn’t gone anywhere. And it felt like the Cubs were trying to figure out the plan themselves all winter long:

  • At the GM Meetings in November, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said they’d discussed finding Morel a defensive home, with the idea that he could even get some work at first base during winter ball.
  • At the Winter Meetings in December, Counsell discussed the value of defensive versatility, without ruling out that they could still look to find Morel a specific spot on the field.
  • At Cubs Convention last month, general manager Carter Hawkins said the plan at that moment was to play Morel at multiple positions, saying, “We could put all our chips in one spot, or we can put half our chips in one and the other” (while also acknowledging he didn’t know that either was the better answer over the other).

Though Morel has played six of the nine positions at the major league level, the metrics didn’t necessarily love him at any of them. He seemed to perform best up the middle, but both shortstop and second base are already manned by Gold Glovers.

So yes, Morel can play all over the field, but he still needs to play them at a certain level. If he can’t do that at multiple positions, perhaps focusing on just one spot is the right route to go.

“It is harder to play multiple positions, no question about it,” Counsell said. “At this point with players around Chris, we’ve asked him to move around. So, I think my idea at the start of camp is to kind of focus mainly at third base. Let’s see where we’re at. Let’s evaluate that as we go.

“Let’s give him a chance at third base. Let’s give him some consistency at third base, see where we’re at roster-wise at some point in camp, and then go forward from there.”

The reasoning behind third base being the focus is pretty straightforward: It’s still an open job.

The candidates coming back from 2023 are Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom and Miles Mastrobuoni, but none of them have locked down the position. Counsell also said Saturday the Cubs will have Wisdom try a little more first base this spring, which could open even more opportunities for Morel at third.

But remember, the position Morel played the most by far over parts of six years in the minor leagues was third base. Even with all that time at the spot, he didn’t earn the trust needed to be the everyday third baseman in the big leagues. It’s not farfetched to think a spring with complete focus on third base still might not lead to that.

There’s also the idea that the Cubs could ultimately bring in a free agent. Matt Chapman, the four-time Gold Glove winner at third base, would be an addition that immediately takes over the hot corner.

So, Morel becoming the Cubs’ Opening Day third baseman is far from guaranteed.

For now, though, Counsell seems ready to give him a real opportunity to show he can meet the defensive standard at third. It’s up to Morel to prove he can take advantage of it.

“I’m really excited about the offensive potential and know that, defensively, this is still a young player,” Counsell said. “And it’s work. It’s work we’re gonna have to put in and see where that work gets us.”

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