The Rundown: Morel Is Counsell’s Ride-or-Die, Darvish Helps Cubs Recruit Japanese Players, Chaos Rocks MLB’s Opening Day

Craig Counsell doesn’t make rash lineup decisions, so Christopher Morel will be his ride-or-die at third base this season. The Cubs’ new manager has said repeatedly that the end of spring training is not a final exam and that Morel will continually be evaluated as the season progresses. What should we expect?

  • The Good: Majestic power, instant offense, draws walks at a solid rate, and fiery hustle. His average exit velocity, barrel percentage, and hard-hit percentage all ranked in the top 10th percentile of major league hitters.
  • The Bad: Morel’s 31.6% K-rate is, well, not good.
  • The Ugly: His fielding percentage was in the .840-ish rate this spring last time I checked. In 2022 while playing 141.1 innings at third base, he was a -4 outs above average defender.

Morel’s defense has always been a concern and he’s probably better suited to be a designated hitter. Counsell prefers to rotate players in and out of that position to reduce the wear and tear that comes with fielding a position day in and out. He also wants to keep Morel’s bat in the lineup as much as possible.

Morel is a joy to watch when he’s producing eye-popping numbers at the plate. The 24-year-old can also be a little hard on the eyes when he’s slumping and his poor defense is a little more obvious. He has a rocket for an arm, but his footwork and accuracy are imperfect at best and unsatisfactory at worst. Counsell hopes repetition is the key to improving those defensive metrics. That’s why 2024 will be a full-season audition, or at least until Matt Shaw is MLB-ready.

The swing-and-miss can be off-putting as well, but Javier Báez struck out at a 31.3% rate during his time with the Cubs. Morel has also improved his groundball rate, so he’s less likely to hit into double plays. Counsell believes trading the good for the bad and the ugly is worth a full-season tryout. That means the Cubs are beyond the experimental stage, for better or worse.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

The start of the 2024 regular season hasn’t quite been the gala affair that MLB was hoping it would be. Shohei Ohtani has been thrust into a theft and gambling investigation and members of the MLBPA are trying to oust the union’s second in command.


Central Intelligence

Spring Training News & Notes

Here’s your guide to the chaos that rocked baseball’s Opening Day.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto made his MLB debut this morning and things didn’t go so well.

The Braves and Dodgers have the game’s best lineups and pitching staffs this season.

The Yankees are reportedly interested in Jordan Montgomery as a replacement for the injured Gerrit Cole.

The Rangers have agreed to a deal with pitcher Michael Lorenzen.

Former Braves outfielder Gary Cooper missed qualifying for his pension by one day of service time.

Giancarlo Stanton had quite a game against the Pirates in Wednesday’s Grapefruit League action. The behemoth slugger hit three home runs totaling 1,300 feet and plated eight runners.

Extra Innings

Morel was the ultimate hype man when Alexander Canario hit his grand slam late last season.

Apropos of Nothing

It’s March Madness, and bracket pools are the rage. I didn’t fill one out this year, but I know who my Final Four teams are.

  1. UConn
  2. Alabama
  3. Marquette
  4. Gonzaga

UConn takes it all, and I honestly don’t see a challenge for them in any round.

They Said It

  • “He’s a great salesman for our organization. We have guys coming over that trust what Darvish did. He set the foundation for these guys to come over and transition and prove that you can pitch in this league for a long time and have a lot of success. Let Shōta be Shōta. That’s what Darvish said”Tommy Hottovy
  • “I think Shōta’s got the ability to kind of like hear it, ‘Oh, that doesn’t work,’ kind of throw it out and then keep the stuff that works for him. And that’s just how his mind works and how his head works and it’s what allows him to adjust pretty quickly.” – Counsell

Thursday Walk-Up Song

One week until Opening Day! Celebrate accordingly.

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