A Case for Christopher Morel as Everyday 3B
Perhaps one of the best developments of the Cubs 2022 season was the promising rookie performance of Christopher Morel. The 23-year-old utilityman made a big splash with a home run in his first career at-bat on May 17, then proceeded to go on an absolute tear through June. He had 47 hits in 166 ABs, with 19 of those going for extra bases.
It then appeared like fatigue started to wear on him in the second half of the season, as his numbers cratered with just 25 hits in 137 August and September at-bats (.182 avg). Despite the late-season slump, Morel finished with a 107 OPS+, 108 wRC+, 16 home runs, and a WAR between 1.4 (bWAR) and 1.6 (fWAR).
Although Chicago had a relatively busy offseason, one area of need they did not address was at third base. The lion’s share of the playing time in 2022 went to 31-year-old Patrick Wisdom, who hit 25 homers but also struggled mightily with strikeouts and only put up a wRC+ of 104. Looking at all the information available right now, Morel could be the perfect choice to be the Cubs’ everyday third baseman this season.
Fatigue should be less of a factor in 2023 now that the rookie wall has been scaled. Morel played a career-high 139 games in 2022, up from a previous high of 111 in 2021. Even more than the total number of games played, however, was the grind of a full six-month MLB schedule with long road trips. While it certainly never gets easy it is much more manageable when you have experience with it.
Morel’s struggles at the plate were due largely changeups, an offering he had a -2.4 pitch score against according to FanGraphs. A good change is pretty rare in the minors since they take time to perfect, thus a lot of inexperienced hitters are baffled by offspeed early in their careers. I believe Morel will improve the more changeups he sees.
His strikeout rate displayed the offspeed scuffles and second-half fatigue, jumping from 30.7% before the All-Star break to 34.2% after. Neither mark is great, but Wisdom was at 34.3% on the season. Another promising sign for Morel is an 8.9% walk rate was above the league average (8.2%) and should hold somewhat steady based on his minor-league production.
The numbers seem to show it’s worth giving him a chance to play every day on the offensive end. The question that needs to be answered next is will his glove play at third? He absolutely has the range and athleticism to handle just about any position and he played all over the field in 2022.
The biggest issue he had at the hot corner last season was the accuracy of his throws. He has plenty of arm strength, yet he had three throwing errors in just 141 innings at third in large part because he relies too heavily on his cannon. Morel would sometimes rush throws due to either poor footwork or just for the hell of it, leading to issues. Though his versatility is a key factor to his value, getting routine reps at third would likely curb those errant tosses.
He could always fall back on the utility role if he struggles, but I think he could seize the job and never look back if he gets the chance.