Morel's exuberance galvanizing Cubs

June 1st, 2022

CHICAGO -- A pile of ivy leaves dropped to the warning track after Brewers right fielder Tyrone Taylor slammed into the bricks. Christopher Morel kept sprinting, sliding into third with a triple, punctuating it with four hard claps, a flex and a yell in the direction of the Cubs' dugout.

Morel was at it again on Tuesday night, exuding exuberance in another electrifying performance within an 8-7 win over the Brewers at Wrigley Field. The rookie has brought an energy level that has manager David Ross reminiscing about a young Javier Báez.

"The triple there," Ross said, “sliding past the bag and popping up. To me, that exact slide reminded me of Javy. He's playing the game with a lot of passion."

Morel's electric triple came as part of a four-run sixth inning that helped the Cubs pull off their comeback victory, and extended his hitting streak to 11 games. His walk, which had come one plate appearance earlier, gave him a franchise-record streak of reaching base in the first 14 games to start a career.

Back in 2016, Willson Contreras set the Cubs' record by reaching base in the first 13 games in which he stepped to the plate. He homered on the first pitch he saw in the Majors. Six years later, now a veteran, he watched Morel homer in his first career at-bat on May 17. And now he saw the rookie surpass his on-base feat.

“That’s awesome,” Contreras said. “Keep going.”

On the season, Morel is now slashing .283/.387/.491 with five stolen bases, six extra-base hits, eight walks and nine runs through 14 games.

"Morel brings the energy," Contreras said. "He brings a lot of things to the table. What I like the most is that -- like I've said before -- he's never mad. He's never concerned about anything. I think that's one thing that lets him play the way he's playing right now. He deserves to stay here."

When Báez arrived to the Cubs in 2014, the team was in the latter stages of a rebuild and finished the season with 89 losses. Contreras arrived two years later as part of the Chicago team that won the World Series. The hope would be that Morel's arrival, followed by the ascension of some of the highly touted prospects in the system now, can produce a similar pattern.

Right now, as the Cubs are going through their ongoing rebuilding project, they are using the loss of a wave of players to the injured list as an opportunity to see some younger players. There are 14 players on the IL right now, but that has led to the debuts of players like Morel, Nelson Velázquez, Brandon Hughes and Matt Swarmer.

An injury to right fielder Seiya Suzuki allowed Velázquez to debut and collect his first two career hits on Monday. Setbacks in the bullpen paved the way for Hughes to come up and post impressive strikeout rates. Swarmer turned in a quality start on Monday with veteran Wade Miley sidelined. Backup catcher P.J. Higgins has homered in two consecutive days, while veteran Yan Gomes is on the shelf.

"Things are popping up all over the place right now," Ross said. "On one hand, when you get some bad news, the exciting part is seeing a guy like Christopher Morel making his debut. So, there's good and bad in all that.

"I think the hard part is just learning some guys and how to use them the right way and giving them the freedom to go out there and play and produce."

For the last eight games, Ross has given the versatile Morel -- primarily moving between second base and center field -- a test run as the Cubs' leadoff man. On Tuesday night, he attacked the first pitch he saw, sending it off the bat at 104.9 mph and forcing Taylor to make a running catch in right-center field.

"Batting behind him, I have to be ready," said Contreras, who was in the No. 2 spot of the order. "Once I get to the on-deck circle, he's already swinging."

Contreras certainly looked ready as he followed Morel's first-inning liner with one of his own against Brewers lefty Eric Lauer. The Cubs catcher sent a rocket shot 116 mph off the bat for the hardest-hit hit of his career. In the sixth, Contreras doubled into the left-field corner to drive Morel home.

Over the years, Contreras has learned to channel his own emotional spirit, using it to his advantage. When he came up as a rookie, a phrase was thrown around that Ross used to describe Morel on Tuesday night.

"That saying, 'Playing with your hair on fire,'" said the manager. "But, he's calm in the box, taking his walks. But when the ball touches his bat and he gets ready to throw the ball and goes after balls, there's a lot of electricity in that."