Is there a better learning tool than trying to get a hit against pitchers such as Chris Bassitt and Jacob deGrom? Or trying to retire Francisco Lindor or Pete Alonso in a late-inning situation?
For many of the Cubs’ youngsters, the final 3 1/2 weeks of the season represent their final chance to improve their stock in front of their evaluators for 2023.
”I think the game is the ultimate teacher, right?” manager DavidRoss said before rookie right-hander Hayden Wesneski allowed a tiebreaking home run to Thairo Estrada in the seventh inning and a two-run shot to Wilmer Flores in the eighth in a 4-2 loss Sunday to the Giants.
Since the middle of May, the Cubs have taken a look at some of their younger players, such as utility man Christopher Morel and outfielder Nelson Velazquez, as well as relievers Manuel Rodriguez and Jeremiah Estrada, to see how much they learn and adjust to help their development.
”The list goes pretty deep,” Ross said before preparing for a three-game series against the Mets and their formidable cast of players starting Monday. ”Information is out as the league adjusts, and it’s our job and their job to adjust back. It’s just that process of experiencing that.
”Christopher stands out the most of what we’ve asked him to do, playing different positions and trying to soak up as much experience and let us look at a lot of different areas for him. He’s done a really nice job of working consistently and trying to have a big-league career.
”I think all of them learn on a daily basis, and I think the successes are so much fun to see. The failures are great learning moments for everyone.”
Morel, 23, made the jump from Double-A Tennessee to the Cubs on May 17 but cooled considerably after an impressive start. He struck out 29 times in 71 at-bats in August, but he was batting .280 with an .890 OPS against relievers and had a weighted runs created plus of 107 (100 is considered average) entering the game Sunday.
The defensive metrics haven’t been kind to Morel in center field and third base, but the Cubs haven’t given up on developing him as a super-utility player.
Morel took over at shortstop, his natural position, in the sixth inning Sunday for Nico Hoerner, who said he relished the opportunity to play short for the final three weeks of 2019 after Javy Baez suffered a hairline fracture of his left thumb.
”It changed everything for me,” Hoerner said. ”Opportunity-wise, having those three weeks gave me a chance to be part of the team. In 2020, who knows? I might have been at the alternate site the entire year. It was incredibly fortunate on my end. Out of my control, but it ended up working out very well and was a special time in my life.”
Rodriguez, 25, had a 6.11 ERA in 20 games in 2021 but didn’t pitch again for the Cubs until Aug. 26 because of a strained right elbow. Opponents’ OPS against Rodriguez has dipped from .816 to .665 and their exit velocity from 86.1 mph to 78.5 mph, according to Fangraphs.
Rodriguez’s pitch selection has been peculiar at times, but the experience will be invaluable.
”You have to live and learn,” veteran left-hander Drew Smyly said. ”You’re going to fail because everyone fails in this game. So I think it’s important to find and build confidence and learn from mistakes and not get down because you have a bad game. Because we’re all going to, especially when you’re young.”