Where will Morel play in 2024? Counsell weighs in

February 18th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. – Dating back to the Winter Meetings, new Cubs manager Craig Counsell has talked up 's potential as an impact bat in his lineup. The offseason discourse surrounding Morel’s positional fit within the offense has taken a winding road.

On Saturday, Counsell clarified the team's current plan for Morel, who arrived at the Cubs' complex earlier in the morning. At least on the front end of Spring Training, Morel will focus on playing third base for Chicago, giving the manager a chance to get his eyes on the infielder's defense.

“I'd like to see him at third base,” Counsell said. “Look, Christopher's done so much with the bat that it's our job to figure out the best way to deploy him, right?"

Morel spent the bulk of last season serving as a designated hitter for the Cubs, but also logged innings around the infield (second base, shortstop and third) and outfield. Two years ago, Morel made the jump to the Majors directly from Double-A Tennessee, filling in mainly as a center fielder and utility infielder.

In the early stages of this offseason, the Cubs had Morel getting work in at first base during his time with Águilas de Mexicali in the Dominican Winter League. Counsell talked up the importance of versatility for Morel at the Winter Meetings. That continued to be the conversational focus at the Cubs Convention last month – with the idea of a return to DH also on the table.

With Spring Training now underway, Counsell wants to exhaust every possibility, and third base is a logical place to consider Morel. The Cubs used a mix of Patrick Wisdom and Nick Madrigal at third last year. They remain part of the roster, but are best utilized as part-timers based on matchups. Wisdom has been getting reps at first base this spring, too.

Even with his strong arm and athletic frame, Morel’s defensive results in parts of two MLB seasons have been a mixed bag. The 24-year-old has logged 649 innings in the outfield (-10 Defensive Runs Saved and -9 Outs Above Average), 390 innings at second base (1 DRS and -1 OAA), 180 2/3 innings at third (-4 DRS/-4 OAA) and 101 innings at short (-1 DRS/-2 OAA).

“To say he can play a lot of positions, yes,” Counsell said. “We have to play them at a certain level that it makes sense for the bat to be in there, right? And it is harder to play multiple positions – no question about it. At this point, with players around Chris, we've asked him to move around. So, I think my idea at the start of camp is to kind of focus mainly on third base.

"Let's see where we're at. Let's evaluate that as we go. But, let's give him a chance at third base, and give him some consistency at third base – see where we're at roster-wise at some point in camp and then go forward from there."

Offensively, there is no denying Morel’s potential.

Between Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs last year, he launched 37 homers and piled up 101 RBIs in 136 games. Morel had 26 homers with a .508 slugging percentage in 388 at-bats for Chicago last year, while posting a .524 SLG with two outs, .591 SLG with two outs and runners in scoring position and a .615 SLG in “late and close” situations.

“He's had instant game-changing swings,” Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner said. “And I think it's also important to remember how quickly he moved through the higher levels in the Minor Leagues. He's a player who I think is still developing in a lot of ways while also producing at a high level in the big leagues, which is a pretty great place to be.”

That is why Counsell wants to see if Morel can find a home at third base.

"This is a young player who's had a lot of offensive success at an early age," said the manager. "We've got to figure out [his fit] positionally. We don't have to decide today, but hopefully, we'll get some definition of what we're asking him to do defensively. Because there's too much offense there to just ignore."