'I made it': Morel, after tearing up Triple-A, joining Cubs

May 9th, 2023

CHICAGO -- A tarp covered Wrigley Field’s infield on Monday evening, following a cold rain that blew through the area.  took the field, spotted a group of security staffers, smiled wide and headed over to say hello.

“He’s always smiling. He’s always happy,” Cubs first baseman  said. “Greets everybody. He’s the happiest guy to be in the locker room every day. It’s impressive, really.”

And the cold wind and raindrops could not wipe that smile off Morel’s face. This was no ordinary day and these were not ordinary greetings. Morel was back in the big leagues after ripping through Triple-A pitching with Iowa over the past month-plus.

Prior to Monday’s 3-1 loss to the rival Cardinals, the Cubs recalled Morel from Iowa and optioned outfielder  to the same affiliate. How and when Morel will be worked into the mix is yet to be determined, but he had nothing left to prove in the Minors.

“He's proven that Triple-A, he's better than that league,” Cubs manager David Ross said, “and deserves a shot here.”

Morel’s presence could prove important in the immediate picture, given ’s exit from Monday’s game in the fifth inning due to left hamstring tightness. Hoerner, who pulled up while running from first to third base on a  double, will undergo imaging on Tuesday morning to help determine the severity of the setback.

and Morel both provide possible fill-ins for Hoerner at second base.

“It’s frustrating. He’s worked really hard to get to this moment,” Madrigal said of Hoerner. “He’s huge to this team -- the lineup, defensively, offensively, everything. So hopefully he’ll be back in there soon.”

In 29 games with the I-Cubs, the 23-year-old Morel turned in a robust .330/.425/.730 slash line. He slugged 11 homers, adding nine doubles and a pair of triples. Morel scored 31 runs and collected 31 RBIs, while bouncing between all three outfield spots and third base.

Morel said he focused on trying to make productive contact, given his issues with strikeouts. He still struck out at a 30.6 percent rate with Iowa, but balanced that with a 12.7 percent walk rate and overwhelming production on the balls he did connect on.

“Everybody knows I have a problem with my strikeouts,” Morel said. “I made adjustments. I tried to have good at-bats, make more contact, put the ball more in play. That’s what I was working on. Thank God for this. I worked on this and I made it. I’m here.”

Mervis -- who got the call to The Show on Friday after his own strong start with Iowa -- said “it was crazy to watch” Morel’s performance.

“Every at-bat was a good at-bat,” Mervis said. “Against some of the better pitchers we saw, it ended with a bullet RBI double off the big wall in left or a home run. It was always productive. Every at-bat, you just knew Morel was going to do something good.”

Only a few days ago, both Ross and Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer downplayed a potential promotion of Morel. The message was that there was not a clear path to regular at-bats, given the stable nature of Chicago’s Major League roster and lineup.

Ross was asked Monday what changed that led to Morel’s arrival. The manager explained that the decision stemmed, in part, from a desire to get Velázquez out of a bench role and back to playing every day with the I-Cubs. Beyond that, Morel’s numbers could no longer be denied.

Morel was not in the starting lineup on Monday for his first game back with the Cubs. Going forward, he can offer an option for multiple infield and outfield positions, or as the designated hitter. Ross was not certain how it would play out.

“I don't know that there's this big path for everyday at-bats,” Ross said. “[Having] some ability to mix Mo in from time to time is probably going to be the role, more than just everyday at-bats, for sure.”

Last year, Morel arrived on May 17 out of necessity for the Cubs and the rookie launched a memorable home run in his first career at-bat. He went on to hit .235/.308/.433 with 16 homers in 113 games, in which he became a fan favorite not only for his power, but for his infectious personality and energy.

That was evident again pregame on Monday, when multiple teammates lit up when they saw Morel in the clubhouse. After what could have been a demoralizing demotion to Triple-A to start the season, Morel had returned after forcing the Cubs’ hand.

“I didn’t have any problem with it,” Morel said of starting the season at Triple-A. “They sent me down to Iowa and I just remained positive. I just trusted God and trusted myself that I would go back to the big leagues soon. That was my mentality every day that I went to the stadium.”