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Cubs Defensive Trio Starting to Find Their Game

The Chicago Cubs have their own stable of Gold Glovers and All-Stars, but a trio of new stars is beginning to shine brightly on the defensive side.

Cubs Defensive Trio Coming Into Their Own

Michael Busch is Finding the Range at First Base

Michael Busch came to the Cubs on January 11 as a second baseman in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That deal brought him and Yency Almonte to the Cubs for two Cubs prospects. Busch knew he wasn’t going to see much action at second, which the Gold Glover Nico Hoerner dominates. But it turned out the Cubs had other plans for the young infielder.

The 31st overall pick in the 2019 draft, Busch excelled at the minor league level. The Dodgers called him up to the big league club in 2023, but he hadn’t yet developed as a hitter. That prompted the trade last January that brought Busch to the Cubs. He was immediately pressed into fielding practice at first base to see if he could take to it.

As is the case whenever a player takes on a new position, Busch, 26, had his struggles at the start of the season. His stats still reflect a poor showing as the halfway point of the season looms. But the stats don’t show the improvements he’s made at the position. His overall play and his instincts for the position have steadily improved. He’s played in 72 of 78 games for the Cubs and he’s slashing well above league average in every major category .260/.355/.456/.811.

Morel is Beginning to Excel

He’s always had the raw talent for a big-league baseball player. His enthusiasm for the game and for life are evident. But Christopher Morel has been difficult to find a home for on the playing field.

Morel, 25, was signed by the Cubs as a 16-year-old in 2015 and began his pro career in 2017 with the Dominican Summer League Cubs. He made his splashy major league debut in May 2022 and has since batted around the league average with plenty of slugging talent. He leads the team in home runs (15) and RBI (45) despite slugging only .395 this season.

But it has always been his arm that’s been Morel’s biggest liability. His arm strength is way above average, but his accuracy has been a problem. Not so of late. Morel has shown real signs of improving at the position, one of the toughest in all of baseball. With his other attributes, Morel may well be on his way to establishing himself as a major league third baseman.

This PCA Kid is For Real

Rounding out the Cubs’ up-and-coming defensive trio, it is clear to anyone who watches him play that Pete Crow-Armstrong is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. As one of the fastest players in MLB (ranked third at 30.2 ft/sec.), he makes catches that would be highlight reel grabs for mere mortals look routine. And his throwing arm is well above average, too. But the Cubs know they’re still in the early going with the young outfielder. In fact, his return to a crowded outfield may lead to the Cubs seeking a trade to upgrade other areas.

PCA was drafted 19th overall by the New York Mets in 2020. A torn right labrum caused him to sit out most of the 2021 minor league season. But even then, the Cubs saw fit to nab the young talent in a trade that sent Cubs World Series laureate Javier Báez to the Mets along with RHP Trevor Williams. All signs point to the Cubs getting the better end of that deal.

Recently recalled in late May, the 22-year-old still has trouble catching up to a big-league fastball, but he is making progress as a hitter overall. Once on base, his blazing speed is terrorizing opposing defenses. With 22 hits in 107 at bats, he has stolen 13 bases while slashing just .206/.252/.290. Cody Bellinger‘s presence as an everyday center fielder and mentor to this rookie phenom for the remainder of the season is a gift to the Cubs organization. PCA is simply electric.

Signing Tomás Nido is A Bonus for Defense

The recent addition of Tomás Nido to the team has already started to pay dividends for the Cubs. Nido, 30, was released by the Mets and promptly scooped up by the Cubs to help out defensively at catcher. He has filled in nicely and even delivered on offense in the early going. Although he isn’t a long-term fix, he was an inexpensive acquisition that may buy the club some time while they search for a big-league bat. All of this is meant to allow more time for the team’s top catching prospect, Miguel Amaya, to grow into the position.

The Cubs Lineup Needs New Life

While their budding defensive trio is helping the Cubs in that aspect of the game, some glaring holes in their overall structure are beginning to show. A team that was number one in MLB in OPS in March and April is dead last since that time. With a couple of notable exceptions, most of the core of the team is hitting far below their standards this season.

Nearing the midway point of the season, Busch leads the team in slugging (.456) and OPS (.811). The rookie first baseman is on pace for 20 home runs and 60 RBI. Add that to Morel’s 30/90 pace and you have two important bats for the Cubs lineup going forward.

Of course, there is always the chance one or more players will be traded around the July deadline. Of these three, Busch is the most likely to go in a trade. He’s the most well-rounded of the three at this point in their careers. The Cubs know they need to add power to their lineup, not subtract it. Another deal could be made for a first-rate catcher. Either way, a trade at this point would likely involve minor league prospects as well. It’s always a tricky proposition.

When a team is struggling, sometimes all that is needed is some new life, a new face, and some new energy. It hasn’t been a fun ride for the Cubs and their fans so far in 2024. But there is hope that a team that is a perennial player for the postseason is in the works.\

 

Photo Credit: © David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

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