Could Christopher Morel play the role of a younger Ben Zobrist? It’s a strong possibility, Cubs manager David Ross said.
”I’d say, in my eye, the value is his flexibility,” Ross said Friday.
And as long as Morel continues to produce, he’ll remain in the lineup for the foreseeable future.
Morel hit his third home run in as many games — a tying two-run shot in the sixth inning — that helped vault the Cubs to a 6-5 comeback victory against the Red Sox.
Morel, 23, became the first Cubs rookie to hit a homer in three consecutive games since Frank Schwindel on Sept. 3-5, 2021. He has hit safely in eight of his last 14 plate appearances, and he’s batting .326 (15-for-46) with three doubles, three homers and eight RBI in his last 10 games.
But his versatility played an instrumental role in allowing Ross to navigate the Cubs back from a 4-0 deficit. Morel started at second base before moving to center field after pinch hitter Nico Hoerner stayed in the game at shortstop after drawing a bases-loaded walk that gave the Cubs their first lead in the sixth. Andrelton Simmons moved from short to second.
”You feel like it’s a one-man bench,” Ross said of Morel, who has started 29 games in center, nine at second, one at third and one at short and also can play left and right.
Morel didn’t disappoint, as he fired a throw to first base to complete a double play in the fourth and nearly robbed Trevor Story of a hit with a diving stop in the sixth.
With teams employing 13-man pitching staffs, versatility has become a necessity. And with the Cubs in the midst of auditions as they try to construct their ballyhooed ”next great Cubs team,” Morel’s versatility and ability to adjust quickly to opposing pitchers at a young age mean two fewer questions team officials have to answer.
”That flexibility is super-valuable, and the fact [Morel] has been very clean on the
infield so far with the limited looks we’ve got, it’s fun for me to mix and match as best we can,” Ross said. ”And going forward, it’s very valuable in today’s game.”
And very valuable for the Cubs as they try to determine which young players are worthy of being a part of their future.
For instance, Morel’s ability to play center has allowed the Cubs to assess their options at second, third and short.
Top prospect Brennen Davis was projected to join the Cubs around this time. But Davis got off to a slow start at Triple-A Iowa before having season-ending back surgery.
Morel has taken advantage of every opportunity, as evidenced by his strong throw from center to home plate to nail a Reds baserunner Wednesday.
The least of the Cubs’ current worries is Hoerner at short. But they might be tempted to dip into a lucrative free-agent market next winter, with shortstops such as Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts likely available.
Or they could shift their attention to another position.
Morel started his pro career as a shortstop before moving around the infield and playing more frequently in the outfield last season. He joined the Cubs in May.
His versatility caught the attention of catcher Willson Contreras, who started his career as a third baseman before developing into a two-time All-Star behind the plate.
”It’s good to have a player who can play different positions but catcher,” Contreras quipped. ”Having his energy around the field is contagious. And I’m really proud of the work he’s done, and Ross is doing a great job of the way he’s using him.”
Morel said he relishes his various assignments, just as Zobrist did during a 14-year career that ended with the Cubs (2016-19).
”That’s why I work on it every single day, every position,” Morel said. ”Anywhere they need me, that’s what I’m there for — the team.”