Why Cubs aren't promoting red-hot Morel yet

May 7th, 2023

CHICAGO -- After having little left to prove at the Triple-A level, slugging prospect Matt Mervis got the call to join the Cubs on Friday. It was a highly anticipated promotion for a player fans had been calling for across social media for weeks.

"One thing I know about this fanbase is they follow the Minor Leagues and all the guys that are doing so well,” manager David Ross said. “They've been clamoring for him for a little while.

With Mervis now in Chicago, the Cubs' fanbase continues to clamor for utility man . And while Ross called Morel "literally the best Minor League player offensively" right now, the manager said the roster fit is not as clear.

To add Mervis, the Cubs optioned the struggling Edwin Ríos to Triple-A Iowa and moved veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer to a bench role. Mervis is going to play a lot of first base, sharing at-bats there and at designated hitter with Trey Mancini and Hosmer.

Morel can play all over the diamond, but that does not necessarily equal a path to regular playing time at the moment, as Ross sees things.

Morel has logged 12 starts in center with the I-Cubs this season, but Cody Bellinger is locked in there with the big league club. Morel has gotten work in the outfield corners, but he is blocked by Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki. Morel can play up the middle, but shortstop Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner occupy those spots. Morel has started nine games at third at Iowa, but Patrick Wisdom and Nick Madrigal have split the duties there in Chicago.

"And he doesn't catch or pitch," Ross quipped. "So I think, just continue to let him develop and get better at baseball. And that's not just offensively -- that's every area. Those moments will come when we're going to need somebody down there. And if he's swinging the bat like he is right now, he would definitely be the guy."

Through 28 games at Triple-A, the 23-year-old Morel has hit .327/.426/.745 with 11 homers, nine doubles, two triples, 30 RBIs, 30 runs and a 13.2% walk rate. He also has struck out at a 30.2% clip, but he has done plenty of damage on the balls in play.

At the Triple-A level, only 27-year-old Jake Bauers (201) and 30-year-old Phillip Evans (198) -- who both have multiple seasons of big league experience -- had a better WRC+ than Morel (188), entering play on Sunday.

"Chris is playing awesome, and he's obviously great in the clubhouse," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "And he's going to have a huge impact on this team. I do think he's benefiting from playing every day. When there's a path to playing a lot, I think it's no question he'll be up here.

"He really sparked this last year. I know he can have an impact, but we want to make sure he's coming and playing every day. Having him come and not get those at-bats and not get a chance to really participate on a regular basis, I don't think that's the right thing for him or for us."

Here's a look at four more prospects of note across the Cubs' full-season affiliates over the past week:

Triple-A Iowa: RHP (No. 7)
After overpowering hitters at the Double-A level -- Brown had a 0.45 ERA with 30 strikeouts and six walks in 20 innings (four starts) -- the righty enjoyed a strong Triple-A debut on Thursday with Iowa. He struck out seven over 5 2/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits and two walks. Brown was acquired from the Phillies last summer in exchange for reliever David Robertson.

Double-A Tennessee: LHP (No. 5)
Wicks, who was the Cubs' first-round pick (21st overall) in the 2021 MLB Draft, is quietly off to a strong start this season. Through five outings entering Sunday, the 23-year-old lefty was 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA and 29 strikeouts, 18 hits allowed and eight walks. In his past three turns for the Smokies, Wicks tallied 18 strikeouts in 15 innings with a 1.80 ERA.

High-A South Bend: RHP (No. 25)
Franklin slid down MLB Pipeline's Cubs prospect rankings after a tough 2022, during which he was returning from a two-season absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic and injury issues. Out of the chute this year, Franklin has allowed no earned runs in four of his five starts. He has a 2.79 ERA overall, with 30 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. That includes 10 strikeouts and no earned runs in 7 2/3 innings in his past two turns.

Single-A Myrtle Beach: LHP (No. 8)
After a build-up in extended spring camp, the 19-year-old Ferris made his pro debut on Friday, and he was dominant. The left-hander struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced over three innings, allowing no hits and one walk. Ferris was a second-round pick out of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) in the 2022 Draft and received a $3.005 million signing bonus.