Christopher Morel to Play Mainly 3B at Start of Camp

Christopher Morel has been the subject of several different topics of conversation this offseason, whether it’s misreported trade rumors or where he’ll play in the field. The Cubs said he was going to get reps at first base in the Dominican Winter League, which never really came to pass, but he did spend time at the other corner. That’s something Jed Hoyer had talked about all the back in June of last year as the team searched for the best way to keep his bat in the lineup.

Despite the president of baseball operations saying third base “makes some sense,” it would be another two weeks before the manager started Morel there. All told, the 24-year-old played just 39.1 innings over five total games at third, not exactly the kind of sample from which you can draw any conclusions. That usage alone isn’t what got David Ross fired, though the generally inconsistent deployment of young players was certainly a factor in Hoyer shocking baseball by hiring Craig Counsell.

Now the new guy wants to see what he’s got in Morel and whether the super-versatile slugger can settle into a primary position that isn’t DH.

“Let’s evaluate that as we go, but let’s give him a chance at third base, let’s give him some consistency at third base,” Counsell told Meghan Montemurro and other reporters at Sloan Park on Saturday. “See where we’re at roster-wise at some point in camp and then go forward from there.”

This isn’t a definitive statement by any stretch and I remain unconvinced that the Cubs have a high level of confidence in Morel’s ability to hold down the hot corner with aplomb. That said, it makes all the sense in the world on a number of different levels for them to see if he can make it work. At the most basic level, the lineup and roster will be more potent and flexible if he’s in the field every day.

“Christopher’s done so much with the bat that it’s our job to figure out the best way to deploy it,” Counsell said. “To say he can play a lot of positions, yes. We have to play them at a certain level that it makes sense for the bat to be in there. And it is harder to play multiple positions, no question about it.”

Again, this is just a matter of practicality because, as Counsell noted, it’s typically easier for players to be locked into a single position. For many, it’s also much better to be involved in the flow of the game rather than serving as a designated hitter. That’s certainly true for Morel, who batted .222 with a 102 wRC+ as the DH, lower marks than when he was operating at any of six different defensive positions.

Granted, he only had 186 combined plate appearances across all of those positions as compared to 239 as the DH. With the middle infield occupied by a pair of Gold Glovers and the outfield filled with regulars, space was understandably limited. And when you consider that the Cubs gave a bulk of their third base PAs to Patrick Wisdom (302) and Nick Madrigal (294) prior to and even after trading for Jeimer Candelario (157), it’s more than fair to believe the team was very concerned with Morel’s play over there.

Unless, of course, Ross was the only one with concerns and he was going against the front office’s wishes. Whatever, we can theorize this thing six ways to Sunday and we’ll still end up right back at the same place. All that matters now is that the Cubs will give Morel a shot to earn the third base gig at the start of camp and see how it plays out.

The last thing I’ll note here is that it’s interesting to hear Counsell mention seeing where they’re at roster-wise later in camp, especially with the Scott Boras cloud still hanging over the league. I’m not saying it’s an indication of interest in Matt Chapman, but it’s impossible to hear that and let it go without cocking your head just a little. This has now become one of the bigger storyline during spring training, so expect to hear more about it once full-squad workouts start next week.

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