Quick Pitch: Morel Making Most of Second Chance, Brown Bounces Back, Smyly Consistently Good
I love every single post in the Christopher Morel social media debate, mostly because I don’t understand why an argument exists. Morel proved himself last year and for a hot minute earned consideration as a Rookie of the Year candidate. He played six positions including DH and finished with an OPS+ of 107. There are few contrarians that possess the vicious get-off-my-lawn mentality that I do, but even I believed Morel deserved an Opening Day roster spot. He earned it with last year’s performance, and nothing he did in spring training should have cost him a trip North at the end of March.
Still, Jed Hoyer believed Morel needed some refining.
“I know [sending Morel to Iowa] was difficult for him,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “Of course, it would be. You would expect him to take it hard. But to go down there and just not miss a beat, demolish that league. I think that’s impressive.”
David Ross wondered aloud a few weeks ago if he’d find at-bats for Morel. Perhaps Hoyer “forced” Morel on Ross and then asked him to find playing opportunities for the hot slugger.
Ross on how Morel will be used: "I don't know that there's this big path for everyday at-bats. The ability to get Velázquez back (to AAA) & not let him sit on the bench & some ability to mix Mo in time to time is probably going to be more of a role than just everyday at-bats."
— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) May 8, 2023
Seems like an odd statement considering his team’s very weak bench.
There are some — including Hoyer — who believe Morel would not be the MLB force he is right now without six weeks of understudy training in Des Moines, but the second-year player has been on a nine-week heater since Opening Day. He’s doing the same thing in Chicago that he was doing for the I-Cubs. One would think he is therefore playing with a glacier-sized chip on his shoulder. That doesn’t seem to be the case, however.
“I was calm,” Morel said about being sent down. “These are things that I have learned with time, they are things I can’t control. What I could control, I controlled — which was to go out and do my job wherever they put me.
“They told me exactly that I didn’t make the team because I had to improve my strike zone, I had to reduce the strikeouts. From there it was just [to] keep enjoying and not give up and keep working.”
His strikeout rate hasn’t improved at all, but he’s making a lot more hard contact. Hoyer now looks a little foolish for sending Morel down in favor of Edwin Rios and Luis Torrens.
“When you hit it hard, that sound echoes,” Morel said. “It’s fun.”
Morel has been so hot, almost everybody is overlooking the recent surge by Seiya Suzuki, who’s slashing .378/.455/1.347 with five home runs in his last 12 games. Neither received a single vote for ROY in 2022, yet the two could be directly responsible for turning Chicago’s season around. As for Morel, he’s unbothered by the attention because he’s having so much fun.
Midwest Farm Report
There’s a new twist to the rapid emergence of Ben Brown as a potential big league ace in the future. Maybe you knew this but I didn’t. Brown ruptured his appendix as a high school junior, most colleges gave up on him, and the teenager started begging MLB teams to draft him, according to Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register. The surgery caused a weight loss of nearly 30 pounds, and the Phillies finally took Brown in the 33rd round of the 2017 draft.
When Brown was drafted in 2017, he had agreed to “sign for anything” and the Phillies accepted his offer, so he was considered an over-slot signing. Brown didn’t have an agent and told teams before the draft he didn’t care about the money. Five years later, he was traded to the Cubs for David Robertson. The young man can overcome almost anything, including the occasional poor performance.
Brown has made four starts since being promoted to Iowa but was roughed up a little last week. He surrendered three home runs to Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate on May 16 in a 9-1 loss. The 23-year-old bounced back with an impressive outing on Sunday because that’s just what he does. Brown has the physical tools, but showing that type of fortitude displays his maturity. That’s admirable considering his history and draft position. Adversity at the big league level has flattened more than a few burgeoning careers.
Brown is considered a top-10 prospect and is one of the best hurlers in the system. He’s exceeded the initial hype and remains grounded while his star is rising. He’s simply grateful he was drafted and intends to fulfill the high expectations he set for himself as a high school pitcher.
“I don’t go out there trying to stick it to all the teams that passed on me,” he told Birch. “In today’s game, I wouldn’t have even gone. My round doesn’t exist anymore.”
Big League Chew
Drew Smyly has become one of Chicago’s best starters, and he’s done it very quietly and efficiently The 10-year veteran has now gone 11 straight starts at Wrigley Field allowing two runs or less. That puts him in some pretty good company that includes Greg Maddux, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks. He hasn’t pitched badly on the road, either.
Since Aug. 1, including tonight vs. Astros, Drew Smyly owns a 2.62 ERA in his last 18 starts. That is tied for 14th best among MLB starters in that span.
Re-signing Smyly has been one of the Cubs' better offseason moves so far.
— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) May 18, 2023
On the surface, Smyly feels like a guy that could/should be moved at the trade deadline. When you look at his underlying numbers, you quickly get detachment anxiety. This is a guy you want to keep in the rotation. The lefty doesn’t have a big fastball, but he induces almost nothing but weak contact and keeps runners off the bases. Smyly owns a Maddux-like league-leading 0.958 WHIP after Tuesday night’s win.
‘‘I preach it to younger guys: What I’ve tried to do my whole career is just be consistent,’’ Smyly said after his previous start. ‘‘It’s way easier said than done. It’s such a hard, grueling, demanding league. Playing so many games, you’re going to have ups and downs; you’re going to have bad games. But I just want to be as consistent as I can.’’
Consistency has been a trademark since Smyly joined the Cubs last year. His two-year extension gives him stability for the first time in his career. He is one of many pitchers in this generation of players that gets better with age. Smyly is 33, but that no longer seems “old” for a starting pitcher. If he stays healthy, Smyly could pitch until he’s 40 or older, just like Rich Hill. He’s hitting his prime right now and should be a great influence on Chicago’s younger pitchers as they move up the ladder.