Last week, Christopher Morel made his Major League debut for the Chicago Cubs. Entering as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning, Morel took a Chase De Jong pitch out onto Waveland Avenue. His first career plate appearance, which he worked to a full count, resulted in a baseball bouncing on the concrete outside of the park. You couldn’t script a better beginning to a career.
Within the context of the game, it was relatively inconsequential. The Cubs already held a 6-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and were headed into the ninth inning. But for the organization and their latest iteration of a rebuild, it was anything but.
Energy Levels Increasing
In the interest of full disclosure, this began as a far less optimistic piece. With a roster inundated with stopgaps and guys you forgot were in Major League Baseball, the Cubs looked destined to be the poster child for “middling.” They could be good on a given day. They could be bad. But how frequently could they really be interesting? Morel’s monster shot last Tuesday was a precursor to what could be a rekindling of interest on the North Side of Chicago.
After all, expecting good less than a calendar year after the dismantling that occurred in 2021 is akin to expecting the league to produce a consistent baseball. Interesting, though? That would at least be a start.
This seems to fit the bill:
In his first big-league at-bat, Christopher Morel went deep …
He already has a major league bat flip! pic.twitter.com/N3NQKBoasu
— MLB (@MLB) May 18, 2022
Morel joined current teammate Willson Contreras and former Cub Jorge Soler as the ninth member of the club to homer in their first at-bat. It had everything you needed. The bat flip. The packed house. The Contreras reaction. All of it. In other words, much of what this Cubs team has lacked all year.
Not that the Cubs were expected to necessarily contend this year. They have one of the weaker divisions in baseball working in their favor, sure. But this was a team that added Jonathan Villar, Andrelton Simmons, David Robertson, Mychal Givens, and Daniel Norris (among others) during the offseason. It’s not a roster built to do anything for the long-term. And, as such, it’s not a roster that presented a lot of intrigue. Outside of maybe Nico Hoerner and a few of their arms.
But Morel’s arrival changes that. Bryan Smith’s writeup over at Bleacher Nation profiled Morel upon his callup earlier this week. There’s a lot to love in terms of the tools and the versatility. From another standpoint, though, there’s an energy. You saw it in that first plate appearance. The word “vibe” has been abused in modern society, but Morel’s arrival is an adjustment to just that. It’s a significant deviation from the replacement level vets currently residing on the roster.
A Sign of Things to Come
And Morel’s just the tip of the iceberg. Heck, Brandon Hughes made his own loud debut in relief for the Cubs on the same night. He recorded all five outs via strikeout. A former outfielder (that converted to the bump barely three years ago) made his own bit of history. It’s the kind of night that this organization somewhat sorely needed.
In reality, it’s the type of night that we could come to see far more over the next calendar year or two for the Cubs, as well. Beyond Morel, the Cubs have top outfield prospect Brennen Davis residing in Triple-A. Same with Nelson Velazquez, who has already paved his way to join Davis in Iowa after a strong start in Double-A. And that’s to say nothing of Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcantara, and a host of other loud tools-y outfielders. Throw in defensive wizard Ed Howard (even if he’s likely done for 2022) and Cristian Hernández and that same intrigue exists on the infield.
On the bump, you’ve got some arms in the same vein as Brandon Hughes. We already saw a glimpse of Ethan Roberts and his slider. Ben Leeper and Cayne Ueckert should make debuts in 2022. Caleb Kilian and Ryan Jensen, too. If the Cubs continue on their current trajectory, those veteran relievers could be moved at the deadline and open up space for some of the younger arms to arrive on the North Side.
For the Fun of It
This is obviously an oversimplification of the Cubs system. And not all of these guys will pan out, nor will all of them necessarily make it to the bigs as a member of the Cubs. But what the arrival of Morel and Hughes does is provide a flashback to the last time the Cubs went through this process. Bad as the Cubs may have been, there was a lot of fun to it. That’s exactly what appears to be on the horizon for this club now.
Rebuilds are not typically linear. For some teams, they actually become much more circular. The Cubs’ last rebuild was the rare one of the former flavor. They loaded the roster with talent. Whether that talent came from trades, courtesy of a one-year deal that was flipped, or the draft, it was evident. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber, Soler, Contreras, etc. Those guys each brought a buzz with them to the Confines upon their arrival. As is the case now, it was an energy that was sorely needed at each turn.
Perhaps this is too optimistic of a take. Especially given the (justifiable) verbal beating the Cubs have taken by the general public since last July. But it’s hard to look at a guy like Morel, or Brandon Hughes, and witness that type of debut and not get excited about the things to come.
Photo by: Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire| Adapted by Matt Fletcher (@little.gnt on Instagram)