Morel, Gomes show they deserve playing time in '23

September 18th, 2022

CHICAGO -- The Cubs were without on Sunday for the sixth straight game. While he played catch and is nearing his return to the diamond, the Cubs have gotten a look at what can provide at shortstop.

“I look big picture when you’re not winning,” manager David Ross said before the Cubs dropped Game 3 of their weekend set with the Rockies, 4-3. Morel is a part of that big picture.

Morel has had his versatility on display since he made his debut in May. The 23-year-old has played the majority of his games switching between center field and second base but has played a fair amount of third base, left field, and shortstop -- serving as the team’s starting shortstop with Hoerner sidelined.

“He’s definitely shown some sparks of greatness at shortstop, been really clean at second base, I think there's still some work to do at third,” Ross said. “Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, and I think he’s played an average center field, but can grow in that area too.”

Morel is slashing .238/.307/.422 and ranks top 5 among National League rookies in home runs, hits and steals. Sunday, Morel played the first six innings at short and finished the game in center field. He drew a walk and came around to score in the third inning.

“We’ve asked a lot of the young man this year and he’s stepped up to every challenge,” Ross said.

There has been a lot of chatter about the Cubs’ plans for the offseason, with the front office and ownership hinting at a big offseason. If the Cubs do spend big, Morel may be left without a natural fit in the lineup.

Rumors have swirled linking the Cubs to one of the elite free agent shortstops expecting to hit the open market after this season: Trea Turner, Xander Bogearts, Carlos Correa (if he opts out of his deal with the Minnesota Twins) and Dansby Swanson. Should the Cubs pursue one of the top of the market shortstops, that likely means Hoerner would move around the diamond to either second or third base, and Nick Madrigal would play the other position or DH.

A new shortstop would close off infield spots, but what about the outfield? has another year of team control, and has right field locked up through 2026. The Cubs’ top three prospects and five of their top 10 (No. 1 Pete Crow-Armstrong, No. 2 Brennan Davis, No. 3 Kevin Alcantara, No. 9 Alexander Canario and No. 10 Owen Cassie) are all outfielders expected to hit the big leagues in the next two years, according to MLB Pipeline.

“If they’re spending money to give us the best chance to be in the postseason and be not just a competitive team but a dominant team, which is what you want to go towards, obviously that’s the biggest priority,” Hoerner said last week.

Morel’s avenue to playing time in the future is through his versatility. If he can play anywhere -- and play well anywhere -- it gives him a chance to play everyday and let his teammates take regular breaks, similar to Kris Bryant at the end of his Cubs career.

“I think his future is really bright, and the fact that he’s got multiple positions he can play, and has played them in the big leagues, is a positive,” Ross said.

Another player whose performance could be an indication of the future is catcher . While Gomes has spent the majority of this season slated behind -- who could leave the Cubs via free agency this offseason -- Gomes has served as the starter behind the dish with Contreras sidelined due to injury. The 35-year-old catcher is signed with the Cubs through 2023, and he showed why on Sunday.

Gomes knocked a pair of singles and clubbed a Statcast-projected 404-foot home run in the bottom of the sixth inning Sunday, driving in the Cubs' three runs. Gomes could be the bridge between Contreras and Cubs top prospects Miguel Amaya and Moises Ballestros.

“Yan has made myself, the coaching staff, extremely comfortable all year long,” Ross said. “He’s done phenomenal … when he hits it’s a bonus.”

While the Cubs may not be contending for a playoff berth as the season winds down, players like Morel and Gomes are still using September as an audition for what they can bring in 2023.