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Christopher Morel: Champ or Chump for Fantasy Baseball?

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There's always a flavor of the week in fantasy baseball, some of whom have staying power while others are banished to the waiver wire never to be heard from again. If you play in a keeper league or a shallow format, the trick is identifying which camp a particular player belongs to so you know when to pounce and when to hold your resources.

Christopher Morel of the Chicago Cubs is the current flavor of the week, rostered in 59% of Yahoo! leagues despite a minimal prospect pedigree thanks to a .291/.380/.468 line with two homers and six swipes. Fantasy managers love guys who contribute both power and speed, and the fact that Morel is also hitting for a solid average with a strong OBP is gravy.

Unfortunately, the smart money is against Morel being able to maintain anything remotely resembling his current pace. Indeed, the Cubs may have found themselves a utility guy but not a starter and certainly not anyone with mainstream fantasy appeal. Here's why:

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Christopher Morel Meh on the Farm

A player's performance in the minors gives us insight into what kind of player he is, and Morel's MiLB resume suggests a classic jack-of-all-trades but master of none. He cracked the high minors for the first time last season with Double-A (Tennessee), clubbing 17 homers and stealing 16 bases over 417 PAs but producing a line of just .220/.300/.432. His 9.8 BB% was solid, but his 29.7 K% was ugly. Worse, his 16.6 SwStr% meant that the elevated K% looked real.

Morel was also limited to a .276 BABIP thanks in part to a 45 FB%, giving him the batted ball profile of extreme sluggers like Rhys Hoskins or Joey Gallo. His 15.6% HR/FB wasn't really high enough to support that approach though, especially considering that Tennessee had a 113 HR factor from 2017 to 2019. If you need a favorable home park to post a HR/FB of 15% and you have the speed to steal bases, you shouldn't be hitting that many flies.

The performance earned Morel a brief promotion to Triple-A (Iowa) where he hit .257/.333/.371 with a homer and two steals over 39 PAs. His plate discipline appeared to improve with a 10.3 BB% and 25.6 K% in the small sample, but his SwStr% increased to 17.7%. Yikes!

The Cubs sent him back to Tennessee to begin this season, and an elevated .366 BABIP helped him produce a .306/.380/.565 line with seven homers and three steals in 122 PAs. His FB% fell to 40.8 while his HR/FB jumped to 22.6%, but remember that a favorable home park was helping his power. His BB% also declined to 8.2 while his K% fell to 24.6, though his 14.8 SwStr% was still high for Double-A. Morel's numbers suggest a major leaguer but one with substantial swing-and-miss issues and no carrying tools.

 

Christopher Morel: Major League Mirage

Morel has appeared in 21 MLB games at the time of writing and reached base at least once in every one of them, earning himself a regular job as Chicago's leadoff man. His plate discipline has looked good with a 12 BB% and 21.7 K%, and his 27.7% chase rate and minor league history suggest that he will continue working walks. You also have to like that he's stolen six bags on eight attempts for a 75% success rate.

If you look beyond the surface stats though, things start to get dicey. Morel has a 13.9 SwStr% in his brief MLB career: better than anything he posted in the High Minors and still too high to support his 21.7 K%. His Z-Contact% of 76.1% is particularly atrocious. Assuming MLB pitchers are substantially better than their minor league counterparts, we should see his SwStr% rise and his K% experience negative regression, leading to a lot more strikeouts. The ZiPS projection system projects Morel for a K% around 30 moving forward.

Morel's .362 BABIP is too good to be true, especially since his 20 LD% is a little below league-average. Baseball Savant says that he deserves a .275 average to date, and that's before you factor in all of the additional strikeouts that are coming. ZiPS sees Morel as a .216 hitter over the rest of the season, making him an average killer in fantasy.

On the basepaths, Morel has speed to burn with a Statcast Sprint Speed of 29 ft./sec. Unfortunately, he doesn't have any MiLB seasons with elite stolen base totals and was only 3-for-6 in SB attempts at Double-A before his call-up. Fantasy managers should probably expect Morel to steal fewer bases as he becomes more established, though they will still be the primary driver of his appeal.

Finally, Morel's pop has predictably been muted without Tennessee to call home. His 11.1% HR/FB is nothing special, but more concerning is that his FB% has fallen to 30. That's good for his BABIP and SB potential, but it also seems like a waste of his 96 mph average airborne exit velocity. Similarly, his 11.7% rate of Brls/BBE is lower than expected because he's hitting too many ground balls.

 

The Verdict on Christopher Morel

Morel has logged MLB games in the outfield, second base, third base, and shortstop. That's great for his short-term fantasy value since it gives him multipositional eligibility, but it also suggests that the Cubs realize that Morel's future is as a bench guy who fills in wherever needed, not a star. Morel isn't a strong glove at any position either, so he can't count on defense to keep him in the lineup.

There's nothing wrong with riding the hot hand, but Morel should not be a target in keeper leagues despite turning 23 later this month because his resume screams "bench bat." If he's on your roster, selling while his value is at its peak is probably the prudent move. That makes him a Chump.



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