Christopher Morel and the Chicago Cubs are showing up defensively on the West Coast

Everyone knew there would be growing pains as Christopher Morel became the everyday third baseman, but on the West Coast, he's led the charge for a Chicago Cubs defense that's looked much more like itself.
Chicago Cubs v San Diego Padres
Chicago Cubs v San Diego Padres / Brandon Sloter/GettyImages

Road trips out to the West Coast are often the most dreaded times of the year for the Chicago Cubs. For their defense, however, that couldn't be further from the truth in 2024. After some uncharacteristic early struggles, and some growing pains from newly-minted starting third baseman and burgeoning star Christopher Morel, the team has flashed the leather far more reliably during their most recent series against the Mariners, Padres, and Diamondbacks.

Through their first six games, the Cubs had already seen errors committed by their dynamic double-play duo Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner, as well as generally sloppier play all around in the earlier going. New first baseman Michael Busch looked a little shaky as well, enough that he currently has -1 defensive run saved (DRS). The number one offender, however, was clearly Morel. In his first year at the hot corner, he's already had three brutal errors to his name and has thus far rated as the team's worst defender with -2 DRS.

However, Craig Counsell's patience has started to pay off with the slugger. Morel has led a much-improved defense through their West Coast foes. While Hoerner and Swanson have had their fair share of highlight reel plays, Morel is responsible for some of the most impactful moments with the glove in their recent games. Counsell has taken notice too, giving Morel some high praise after Saturday's game in Seattle.

“That changes the game right there,” Counsell said regarding Morel's diving play to rob Mitch Garver, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “They may have the lead if that ball gets into the corner. So that was a huge play. And he made some real nice plays tonight overall. It’s definitely a really big defensive game for Christopher." Morel also made an excellent barehanded play in San Diego and a lightning-quick throw in Arizona, among other impressive defensive plays.

Morel can be a talented defender for the Cubs with more refinement

It won't be an entirely straight development process with Morel at third base throughout the season. There will likely still be times where his defense is questionable, but this run shows that he's capable of being a viable starter at the hot corner - or at the very least, a serviceable enough glove until Matt Shaw arrives. More time and more guidance will help him get more consistent at the position. As long as the defense doesn't regress to his early season woes for an extended period of time, he'll get plenty of runway to hone those skills with Nick Madrigal and Patrick Wisdom as support in late innings and days off.

On the whole, this Cubs defense should have another strong year despite the few kinks that needed to be worked out. Between the Gold Glove double-play duo of Swanson and Hoerner, the excellent outfield command of Cody Bellinger and Ian Happ, the tandem of Yan Gomes and the framing wizard Miguel Amaya behind the plate, and a fast-improving Morel and Busch, it was always going to be unlikely that the team struggled in the field for long.

Thanks to the injuries of Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, and, most recently, Julian Merryweather and general bullpen struggles, it's all the more important that the Cubs keep it clean in the field going forward. That could ultimately be the difference between a team that thrives or crumbles under pressure. Fortunately, things seem to be trending in the right direction.