Why Cubs 'want mistakes' as Morel gets hang of 3B

March 6th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- has enjoyed the structure of his daily workouts this spring. Since Cubs manager Craig Counsell made it clear early in camp that Morel was going to focus exclusively on third base to start Spring Training, the young fielder has appreciated the mental focus that plan has provided.

“It's easier concentrating on just one position,” Morel said on Wednesday morning. “I’m not thinking, 'Oh, I need to go practice outfield. I need to take fly balls. Find a different glove.’ It's easier when you play one position and you know you go to that position every time you go to play.”

Morel’s brief time in the Major Leagues has consisted of him willingly bouncing all over the infield and outfield for the Cubs. He has not yet displayed above-average proficiency at any one position, but constantly moving around presents plenty of challenges. This spring, Counsell wanted to try a different approach with Morel.

With a path to everyday at-bats available at third base, Counsell wanted Morel to limit his daily drill work to learning the details of playing the hot corner. Morel is athletic enough to play up the middle and boasts plus arm strength, but the nuances of playing third are harder to hone when getting reps all over the field.

“Third is a beast of a position,” Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner said. “It's very different from middle infield. The game's so fast there. You play the game with one hand a lot more there. Obviously, arm strength is a big part of third base, but there’s just so many different angles you have to play at that position. It's one of the hardest spots in the game.”

Hoerner played multiple positions as he climbed the Minor League ladder and broke into the big leagues, moving between the infield and outfield as well. He grew into an above-average shortstop by 2022 and then picked up his first career Gold Glove Award in ‘23 after shifting back to second following the arrival of Dansby Swanson.

“It can't be overstated how challenging it is to move around on the infield,” Hoerner said, “much less to the infield and the outfield, while transitioning to the big leagues. It's a big ask and [Morel] has always done everything the organization's asked of him. I'm excited for him. He deserves this opportunity.”

Since coming aboard as the Cubs’ new manager, Counsell has raved about the offensive potential for the 24-year-old Morel. In 388 at-bats last year, Morel had 26 homers and a .508 slugging percentage while serving as a designated hitter and a part-timer at multiple positions for the North Siders.

In Wednesday’s 6-5 win over the Angels, Morel was at it again in the batter’s box. He collected a pair of hits -- including a hard-hit double to left field -- to give him a .353 average and 1.068 OPS through seven Cactus League games. And while Morel did make a couple nice plays in the field, he also committed two errors that showed this is still very much a work in progress.

Morel missed a catch on a low liner off the bat of Aaron Hicks in the second inning, and could not locate the ball in time to get a throw off. In the third, Morel cleanly gloved a grounder from Chad Wallach and had ample time to get the out. Morel took his time and threw wildly over first baseman Dominic Smith.

“The thing I just stress to everybody,” Counsell said, “is that this is not something we're assessing over six weeks, either. This is something to assess over a long period of time, to just keep getting better. And we can assess every player in that spectrum, right? What we're accomplishing with this is consistency of work. And it's a daily consistency. Lots of reps.

“Hopefully, frankly, [there are] mistakes. I want mistakes, because you learn from mistakes. I want action -- balls hit to you. That's what I'm rooting for in the game. Let's hit a lot of balls to Christopher Morel. You want that. From that perspective, he's on the field every morning and getting that accomplished. We're in good shape.”

Like Hoerner, Swanson said he was happy Morel was getting the chance to iron things out with dedicated work at one position.

“The biggest thing,” Swanson said, “especially for a guy in his position that's so athletic and can do so many different things, is them giving some structure and focus around being able to do one thing really well. I think that that helps the mental and physical [components] for any young player, especially trying to kind of find their niche and their mark.”