BALTIMORE — As much as Christopher Morel’s immediate success took the major leagues by surprise, the Cubs’ rookie sensation is getting used to receiving surprises on his phone. The texts belong to strangers with big names, some more famous and accomplished than others. Robinson Cano. Ketel Marte. Jose Abreu. Albert Pujols.
They all express a similar mix of encouragement and advice, and they seem to keep coming, the more Morel continues to establish himself as one of the sport’s most exciting rookies. It has been a whirlwind three weeks in the Majors for Morel, which has been made all the more exciting by the outpouring of support he has received from Latin stars.
“A lot of people that I look up to a lot have written me messages of support,” Morel said Wednesday in his locker at the visiting Oriole Park clubhouse, through team translator Will Nadal. “It’s something I feel really happy about.”
For Morel, 22, what is amazing is that these players are reaching out to him. They are giants of the game, titans he grew up admiring as a baseball-mad kid in the Ciudad Deportiva section of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Born in 1999, Morel was 10 when Pujols won the last of his three MVPs with the Cardinals in 2009. He was 11 when Canó made his first of seven All-Star appearances with the Yankees in 2010. He was a teenager when Abreu made his debut with the White Sox.
Morel is humbled and grateful to have caught their attention so quickly after reaching the Majors. But that’s what happens when you start your career by reaching base in 21 straight games, slashing .298/.381/.524 with 11 extra hits, and dazzling with your dynamic combination of power and speed.
“Each had an individual message,” Morel said. “José Abreu told me to respect the game. Other players told me to keep doing what I’m doing, have fun, respect the game and keep doing what I’m doing.
Morel’s electric start drew comparisons between his own manager and Javy Báez, the current Tiger and recent Cubs star who made a name for himself by shaking things up on both sides of the ball. He grew up idolizing another dynamic shortstop, José Reyes, four-time All-Star and 2011 NL batting champion, also from the Ciudad Deportiva neighborhood of Santo Domingo.
“He was the only one who made it to the major leagues in the league I was in, so he was the one who set an example for everyone,” Morel said. “It means a lot to me. It just shows that I’m putting Sports City, or Ciudad Deportiva as we call it in our hometown, on a high and a high level where people know it. It just means that everything I do brings me success.
As a youngster, Morel emulated Reyes for his ‘aggressive style on goal and the way he shows his emotions when playing the game’. It sounds a lot like how others have described Morel during his brief but captivating big league career. In addition to his excellent results, Morel already ranks in the 90th percentile of the Majors in maximum exit speed and the 93rd percentile in sprint speed.
“He brings a lot of energy and we feed off of him,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said.
“That’s the spark he brings,” said manager David Ross. “He’s a real dynamic type player.”
And yes, Reyes also reached out, although unlike the others, he and Morel had a previous relationship. Yet for Morel, hearing from Reyes tops his ever-growing and jaw-dropping list of admirers. He wants it to continue and for them all to be proud.
“It doesn’t make me feel any pressure at all,” Morel said. “I feel truly honored that the people I grew up looking up to are reaching out to me, giving me words of support. I just try to go out there and do the best I can.