Cubs: Christopher Morel and the kids are on a roll early on
Despite hopes of at least remaining competitive and fun to watch amidst their retool, all seems lost on that front a quarter of the way through the season for the Chicago Cubs. Amidst their poor play, injuries still drive the most frustration as now Seiya Suzuki, the team’s glimmer of hope for the future, and Drew Smyly, one of their top trade chips, have both landed on the IL. If there is one silver lining to all this, it’s that we’ve gotten an early look at the kids from down on the farm.
What started out as a necessity for warm bodies has morphed into a serendipitous performance giving fans at least something to watch in spite of the struggles. It all began with Brandon Hughes and Christopher Morel, who combined stellar pitching and a first at-bat home run to create a magical Wrigley memory. Hughes’ five strikeout relief performance really set the table for a solid run of prospect performance at the major league level.
Morel has led the way for the young generation of Cubs, putting up numbers unexpected of his Javier Baez-like profile at Double-A Tennessee. His 142 OPS+ is plenty impressive, but it’s how he’s done it that’s most astounding. Despite a 28.6 strikeout percentage at Double-A, he’s only struck out 25.6 percent of the time at the major league level. His MO with the Cubs has been quality at-bats with a better than average 24.8 percent chase rate and 12.3 walk percentage.
Morel also accomplished all that while playing multiple positions with solid defense at each one. For as entertaining as it has been to watch him as the Cubs’ go-to table-setter, Monday brought three more fresh faces to the show, each with varying degrees of success. Matt Swarmer notched a quality start with one earned run in the most impressive debut of the day, Anderson Espinoza played savior for an injured Smyly with a four-inning relief performance, and Nelson Velázquez picked up a couple of knocks.
Young Cubs are off to a good start at the major league level
It’s important to keep expectations reasonable when looking at the early results. Especially in the case of the latter three, this current stint doesn’t define their future with the team. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see the kids take steps forward in the majors. Winning is essentially out of the question already, so it’s good to see the Cubs finding what they have in the younger guys.
Better yet, it’s heartening to see some of the less-heralded prospects produce. Even if they don’t stick around, seeing them find success while also noting their weaknesses builds a path for development that can keep them around long term and ultimately find the best version of those players. There is a visible path right now for someone like Morel to become a quality major leaguer that wasn’t as illuminated as before.
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For as much misery this season has caused for the fans, it’s both a treat and incredibly valuable to see prospects showing promise in Chicago so far. Everyone’s been clamoring for Brennen Davis and Caleb Kilian, yet Morel is here forcing tough roster decisions as Hughes, Swarmer, and Velázquez look to establish themselves. That bodes well for a quick turnaround for the Cubs if the kids continue to prove their potential in the big leagues.