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Christopher Morel will focus on phase 3 in camp

MESA, Ariz. — Third base has long been viewed as the best path for Christopher Morel to break into the Chicago Cubs’ lineup, at least in a non-designated hitter capacity.

Morel now has the opportunity to hold one position. Manager Craig Counsell said Saturday that Morel will focus primarily on third base at the start of camp.

“Let’s evaluate that as we go, but let’s give him a chance at third base, let’s give him some consistency at third base,” Counsell said. “At some point in camp, see where we are squad-wise and go from there.

“I’m really excited about his offensive potential and defensively I know this is still a young player and it’s working. It’s a job we’ve got to put in and we’ve got to see where that work takes us.”

The Cubs relied on their team mix last season with middling production in the third season. The group ranked 17th in team bWAR; Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom, Jeimer Candelario and Miles Mastrobuoni each started at least 72 games. Morel provides much more offensive advantage and regularly threatens to deal damage.

Morel made 20 major league starts at third, including four last season when he was limited to just 39 1/3 innings at the position.

“Christopher has done so much with the bat that it’s our job to find the best way to use it,” Counsell said. “To say he can play multiple positions, yes. We have to play them at a level where it makes sense for the bat to be there. And it’s harder to play multiple positions, there’s no question about that.”

This represents a change in the Cubs’ vision for how they expect to use Morel in the spring.

Cubs designated hitter Christopher Morel celebrates after a three-run home run walk in the ninth inning against the White Sox at Wrigley Field on Aug. 16, 2023.

During GM meetings in early November, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Morel would work at first base in winter ball to increase his versatility. The issue came up again at the winter meetings in early December, when Hoyer announced that Morel had first conducted pregame workouts with the Aguilas, the winter team in the Dominican Republic, and that the organization had sent coaches for hands-on training. At the time, Counsell said Morel should be on the Cubs’ roster, but he wasn’t sure he’d know about Morel’s positional future until the spring.

“Where is it now? This is what we need to figure out. To sit here on Dec. 3 and say we need to figure this out or that he could be a versatile piece, yeah, Mookie Betts was a versatile piece for a pretty good team,” Counsell said two months ago.

Then, at the Cubs Convention last month, Morel’s discussion with Counsell and general manager Carter Hawkins focused on embracing his defensive versatility and having him work multiple positions rather than a long third base in spring training.

Just 24 years old entering his third major league season, Morel made sense as a potential offseason trade chip for the Cubs to strengthen other areas of their roster; This would allow Morel to move back to second base, his more natural position. where was it blocked Golden Glove winner Nico Hoerner.

“The players that are being asked questions about are good players, so there’s nothing wrong with that,” Counsell said.

Cubs second baseman Christopher Morel (right) fails to make a play with his bare hands on an infield hit by Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt on July 21, 2023 at Wrigley Field.

Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

Cubs second baseman Christopher Morel (right) fails to make a play with his bare hands on an infield hit by Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt on July 21, 2023 at Wrigley Field.

Patrick Wisdom is expected to get more reps at first base this spring as he is asked to try some new things when competing in camp. Despite Wisdom’s aggressive pastimes at times, he also has the power to change games with one strike. That provides value to Counsell, who said “you find room for these guys.”

If Morel shows during camp that he can be trusted to handle routine plays on a regular basis and become their regular third baseman, that creates an opportunity to acquire another quality hitter to use at the DH spot via free agency or trade.

It has short and long-term organizational benefits. It all starts with the work Morel puts in and proving he can handle third down adequately.

“I look at this as a young player who had a lot of success offensively early on,” Counsell said. “We’ve got to find a solution positionally – we don’t have to decide today – but hopefully we’ll find a definition of what we want him to do defensively because there’s too much offense there for him to ignore that, you know? Obviously finding a defensive position or finding a role defensively will help him but “Honestly, I need some time to digest all this.”

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