BALTIMORE -- As much as Christopher Morel’s immediate success has taken the Major Leagues by surprise, so too is the Cubs rookie sensation growing used to receiving surprises on his phone. The texts belong to unknown numbers with big names, one more famous and accomplished than the next. Robinson Canó. Ketel Marte. José Abreu. Albert Pujols.
They all express a similar mix of encouragement and advice, and they seem to keep coming, the more Morel continues asserting himself as one of the sport’s most exciting rookies. It’s been a whirlwind three weeks in the Majors for Morel, which has been made more thrilling by the outpouring of support he’s received from Latin stars.
“A lot of people that I admire a lot have written me messages of support,” Morel said Wednesday at his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Oriole Park, through team translator Will Nadal. ”That's something that I feel really happy about.”
For the 22-year-old Morel, the amazing thing is that these players are reaching out to him. These are giants of the game, titans he grew up admiring as a baseball-crazed kid in the Ciudad Deportiva section of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Born in 1999, Morel was 10 when Pujols won the last of his three MVPs with the Cardinals in 2009. He was 11 when Canó made his first of seven All-Star appearances with the Yankees in 2010. He was a teenager when Abreu debuted with the White Sox.
Morel is humbled and grateful to have caught their attention so quickly after reaching the Majors. But that’s what happens when you begin your career by reaching base in 21 consecutive games, slashing .298/.381/.524 with 11 extra-base hits and dazzling with your dynamic combination of power and speed.
“Each one has had an individual message,” Morel said. “José Abreu told me to respect the game. Other players have told me to keep doing what I’m doing, having fun out there, respecting the game and to continue doing what I’m doing.”
Morel’s electric start has drawn comparisons from his own manager to Javy Báez, the now-Tiger and recent Cubs star who made a name for himself by making things happen on both sides of the ball. He grew up idolizing another dynamic shortstop, José Reyes, a four-time All-Star and the 2011 NL batting champion who also hails from the Ciudad Deportiva neighborhood of Santo Domingo.
“He was the only one that made it to the big leagues from the league that I was in, so he’s the one that set an example for all of us,” Morel said. “It means a lot to me. It just shows that I'm putting Sports City, or Ciudad Deportiva, as we call it in our hometown, putting it at a high place and a high standard, where people know about it. It just means everything I'm doing is bringing me success.”
As a youngster, Morel emulated Reyes for “his aggressive style on the bases and the way he shows emotion when he’s playing the game.” That’s a lot like how others have described Morel during his brief but captivating big league career. In addition to his excellent results, Morel already ranks in the 90th percentile in the Majors in max exit velocity and the 93 percentile in sprint speed.
“He brings a lot of energy and we feed off him,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said.
“That’s the spark he brings,” manager David Ross said. “He’s a real dynamic-type player.”
And yes, Reyes has reached out too, though unlike with the others, he and Morel already had a previous relationship. Still, for Morel, hearing from Reyes tops his ever-growing and jaw-dropping list of admirers. He wants to keep it going and make them all proud.
“It doesn’t make me feel pressure at all,” Morel said. “I really just feel honored that people that I've grown up looking up to would reach out to me, give me words of support. I'm just trying to go out there and do the best that I can.”