CHICAGO -- At the end of Spring Training, Christopher Morel was starting to gain offensive momentum in the batter's box and making the Opening Day roster look like a strong possibility. The Cubs did not feel a bench role was the best option for his development.
When Morel was summoned to manager David Ross' office at the end of camp in Arizona, he learned he was going to head to Triple-A Iowa to get regular playing time. Rather than letting that decision crush his confidence, Morel has been on a tear out of the gates for the I-Cubs.
"When we had that conversation, you saw the disappointment in his face," Ross said. "But the words that came out his mouth were like, 'I'll keep working, I'll be ready.' That's exactly what we expect. He's a guy who loves to play baseball, loves to go out there and compete. I know he's off to a good start."
Morel is no longer considered a "prospect" per se, but he is still young in years (23), MLB experience (113 games in 2022) and Chicago is still determining how he best fits in the roster puzzle. Morel is a versatile defender and balances swing-and-miss with plus power.
In his final six games in Spring Training, Morel hit .429 (6-for-14) with two doubles and two home runs. Through his first seven games at Triple-A, he was batting .346/.500/.654 with a homer, three doubles, one triple, seven RBIs, two steals and seven walks (compared to 12 strikeouts).
In his rookie tour with the Cubs in 2022, Morel played a lot of center field and bounced between multiple infield positions. So far with Iowa, the crowded outfield has led to most of his innings coming at third, with some limited action in right and center field.
"There's going to be moments and decisions and things that come up," Ross said. "I know he will help us out this year [over] a long stretch. I don't know what capacity that is, you know? None of us can see the future. But I know he'll help us out. So the fact that he's swinging it well and has a lot of confidence just bodes well for us."
Let's highlight four more players who have had notable weeks down on the farm at each of the Cubs' four full-season affiliates.
Triple-A Iowa: 1B Matt Mervis
Once the Cubs added veterans Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini to the first-base picture over the offseason, it was clear that Mervis (No. 7 on Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs prospects list) would open the year with Iowa. In his first seven games, the 24-year-old slugger has hit .240/.394/.520 with two homers, one double, eight runs, as many walks (six) as strikeouts (six) and a team-high 10 RBIs.
Double-A Tennessee: OF Pete Crow-Armstrong
Given Crow-Armstrong's status as Pipeline's No. 1 Cubs prospect (No. 26 in baseball), it is no surprise he is already off to the races with the Smokies. In his first three games of the season, the 21-year-old center fielder has four hits (including a triple), one walk and three stolen bases to go along with a .929 OPS out of the chute.
High-A South Bend: LHP Luke Little
The 22-year-old Little is not on the Cubs' Top 30 list yet, but the 6-foot-8 lefty is definitely an arm to keep an eye on this year. In his season debut with South Bend, the hard-throwing Little racked up four strikeouts with two walks in four scoreless innings.
Single-A Myrtle Beach: INF Pedro Ramirez
Ramirez heads into this season as the Cubs' No. 22-ranked prospect, per Pipeline. If he keeps hitting at the rate he has since joining the system, the switch-hitting infielder will not stay under the radar for long. He had a .919 OPS in a 50-game debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2021, followed that with an .869 OPS between the Arizona Complex League and Myrtle Beach in '22 and is 4-for-8 after two games this year.