Morel showing Cubs his value isn’t defense-dependent

The trial run of playing Christopher Morel at third base is off to a rough start.

Also true: Morel has been the Cubs' most valuable player in the first week of the season.

Morel hit his second home run of the season as the Cubs rolled past Colorado 12-2 on Tuesday at a chilly, but relatively dry Wrigley Field. Seiya Suzuki, Garrett Cooper and Cody Bellinger also hit home runs.

Bellinger sent one at the right-field scoreboard in the seventh, measured at 425 feet. Suzuki's home run in the first inning had an exit velocity of 115 mph, according to Statcast, the highest of his MLB career.

Javier Assad matched Shota Imanaga's effort from Monday by tossing 6 scoreless innings against the Rockies. Assad had a tougher task because the wind was blowing out for the first home night game.

After going 1-for-4 with a walk and 2 runs scored, Morel is hitting .381, technically second on the team to Ian Happ's .421.

Morel is clearly a natural middle infielder, but the Cubs are locked into Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner at those spots. Morel started at six different positions in 2023, including all three in the outfield.

So it made sense to give him a shot to try third base and see if he can get comfortable there. But Morel made 2 errors in his first three starts at third this season and there was probably at least one other play that could have been made.

Manager Craig Counsell said he plans to look at a bigger chunk of the season before making any judgments.

“This is about consistency for Chris and just getting him over there every day and getting practice over there every day,” Counsell said. “The reason why you do things like this is because it affects other parts of the team and I think it can make the team better in general.”

The Cubs do have options defensively. Nick Madrigal started at third base Tuesday, while Morel was DH. Madrigal not only collected 2 hits and 3 RBI at the plate, he made an impressive diving stop and throw to retire Kris Bryant in the sixth inning.

There are plenty of long-term implications too. Even if Morel masters third base by some point this season, the Cubs may still view Matt Shaw, last year's first-round pick, as a candidate to take over the position. OF Owen Caissie is another player in the farm system with a bright future that may have to slot in at DH.

The Cubs are committed to Happ in left field for two more years, but that's another potential long-term home for Morel.

“The way (Morel) is going to get better is by playing,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Monday. “We've never given him that opportunity in a Cubs uniform. We've never just given him a position and said go work on it every day, go get comfortable and acclimate.”

At the same time, Hoyer threw down a warning about how the Cubs' strengths are supposed to be pitching and defense.

“We have to be a clean team,” Hoyer said. “That is how we're built. We can't make a lot of errors. We need to make good plays, we need to secure the ball. Our game plan will get derailed if we don't do that.”

Errors by Morel and Swanson created 3 unearned runs Sunday against Texas. The miscues led to a shorter outing by starting pitcher Jordan Wicks and more innings for the bullpen. If not for the quality starts by Imanaga and Assad, the bullpen could have been feeling taxed in early April.

In Monday's home opener, Morel was charged with an error when he missed a line drive that sailed past his right side. After the game, he talked about how he moves on from frustrating mistakes.

“My mindset I just want to go out there and control what I can control,” Morel said, with help from a translator. “Whatever decision the manager makes, whether it's to have Nick Madrigal go in and play third or whatever he decides, I just see it as looking out for what's best for the team and ultimately, that's what matters at the end of the day.”

The Cubs depth is showing out early in the season. Madrigal had multiple hits, while Cooper contributed a double, triple and 3-run homer in his first start for the Cubs. Mike Tauchman wasn't in Tuesday's lineup, but the Cubs are 2-0 in games he's started.

Twitter: McGrawDHSports

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