Beyond upgrading the Cubs’ roster, one of the organization’s most pressing questions entering the offseason centered on Morel.
He possesses the tools and athleticism to play multiple positions, something the 24-year-old has become accustomed to through his first two big-league seasons. In October, during his end-of-season news conference, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said figuring out Morel’s positional future and how to best utilize him would be something the Cubs needed to evaluate leading up to 2024.
Four weeks before camp begins in Mesa, Ariz., the Cubs are keeping an open mind on where Morel will slot in defensively as they look for ways to keep his electric bat in the lineup.
“We’re going to have to at some point decide where we focus a lot of the work on with Christopher,” manager Craig Counsell said Saturday. “And we might get that wrong at the start, but his versatility is something that is going to get him on the field that I think gives the team a floor if that makes sense, like where if something doesn’t go the way you want it or maybe the way you planned it originally that you can make an adjustment and have a lot of options there.
“That’s what versatile players do and that’s what I think Christopher is going to do for the Cubs.”
Morel got work at first base in the Dominican Republic where he played winter ball, though he didn’t log any game action at the position and predominantly started at third base. The pregame work and video the Cubs received was productive, general manager Carter Hawkins said Saturday.
“We’re excited to see how that plays out,” Hawkins said. “But from an athletic standpoint, I mean, if you can play shortstop from a hand standpoint, you should be able to play first and he definitely shows that.”
Third base would seem be the ideal position for Morel to take over, pending any further offseason moves. He’s shown flashes of defensive greatness but also struggles at times with routine plays and consistency on his throws. Morel, who was not at the Cubs Convention over the weekend because of visa issues according to an Instagram story on his account, started only two games and played 39 1/3 total innings at third base in 2023.
So why not play Morel at third every day in spring training to see whether he can handle it?
“I mean, you could put all our chips in one spot or we can put half our chips in one and the other,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know that one is a better answer or not. Our decision right now is to play him at multiple places and to the extent we feel like there’s better odds in one we’ll continue to put more chips there. But it’s just the strategic plan we have at this moment.”
Counsell agrees with the counterpoint to positional versatility: sticking at one position every day will make a player better at that position. However, the Cubs are thinking big picture when it comes to Morel and the team.
“That’s maybe a little bit of the sacrifice you make, but I’d argue you’re more valuable playing more positions and being versatile,” Counsell said. “Season to season, putting a team together, daily managing lineups, versatility is good for everybody I think.”
Ben Zobrist ‘very honored’ by Shōta Imanaga’s number choice
Shōta Imanaga wasn’t going to settle for any random jersey number after signing with the Cubs.
He had researched the franchise’s history and knew he wanted to wear No. 18 in hopes of embodying what former Cub Ben Zobrist meant on the field and in the clubhouse. Imanaga asked his agents at Octagon, which also represents Zobrist, to give the 2016 World Series MVP a heads-up about his choice.
The significance was not lost on Zobrist.
“Coming from an honor culture that means a lot,” Zobrist said of the Japanese lefty. “That was probably personally what I felt most honored by was that comment, just because of course that would be something that I’d want to be known for from my time here. So the fact that he gathered that based on his research, it’s a big honor.”
“It’s beautiful to be able to come back and be a part of Cubs Nation and to be recognized as one of the guys that helped the team win the World Series in ’16,” said Zobrist, who wore his championship ring. “It’s something that I’ll always get a chance to enjoy. ... I can’t tell you how many times people have stopped and just said thank you to me and I just feel just super blessed that I got to be a part of it.”