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Cubs prospects Christopher and Rafael Morel: ‘The Two Mushrooms’

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It’s a nickname for two young players who could turn out to be important for the Cubs’ future.

Danny Rockett

I'm not a fan of mushrooms. Usually, this matters regarding pizza. I'm not a fan of the taste or texture. Nonetheless, when I noticed the Cubs had brothers in their pipeline named Morel, it didn't take long for me to refer to the elder brother (Christopher) as the Big Mushroom, and his younger brother Rafael as the Little Mushroom. Here is a look at the Cubs' mushroom infestation.

Both players signed bonuses in the high-six figure range. Christopher (20) went for $800,000 in 2015, and had a .697 OPS in the Dominican Summer League. Rafael (17) debuted in the DSL in 2019 with an .821 OPS. The figures are a bit "apples to oranges," but since .697 got big brother to Mesa in one year, .821 should get the younger (who signed for $850,000) to Mesa in March.

Minor-league numbers are often misused. People like to make a long and intertwined story short and peppy. Baseball development isn't that way. Players go to an affiliate, and stay there for an extended period. They try to prove they are better than the league. Sometimes they are better. Sometimes the league is moderately better, and they are held over. There isn't an accepted "a certain OPS in Boca Chica means a player will reach Myrtle Beach." You glean what is available, but the Little Mushroom seems ready for one of the two Arizona League squads in June. His brother, who chipped in quite well for the Midwest League Champions in South Bend, seems ready for a look in the Carolina League in Myrtle Beach.

After his year in Boca Chica, the elder brother split his 2018 campaign between the AZL Cubs and Eugene. His Northwest League numbers (OPS of .392) were enough to help keep him in Extended Spring Training in early April. An injury to opening day third baseman Fidel Mejia sent the organization into a bit of a frenzy seeking a replacement. The Big Mushroom's numbers in Eugene didn't scream "Pick me," but his play in extended spring hinted he may be ready. Over 73 games, and around injury problems of his own, Morel's 2019 OPS (1.2 years younger than opposing pitchers) was a very acceptable .787.

Does that mean his brother will surpass those numbers, necessarily? No, but data points are better than a lack of data points. Rafael will be in extended spring training in a run-up to the start of short-season leagues. If he represents belonging in Eugene, then so be it. Otherwise, a start in Mesa is the likely story. That his brother might well be in Advanced-A ball might give a tie-breaker to the younger brother who had better DSL League numbers.

While I don't prefer mushrooms, people who like them dig chopping them up and spreading them over otherwise yummy pizzas. Since chopping and combining is in play with models, it should be with Morels. The Cubs spent a bit south of two million in signing bonuses on the two. Taken as a bundle, at what point do they reach the break-even value? If one of them has an even mildly successful MLB career, I'd assume they fall on the asset side. If one gets traded for an MLB piece in July, they likely paid off. I'd put forth that if any team is currently asking about either in trade, they've probably already won.

Blah, blah, blah. DSL stats. Signing bonuses. What about the players? Why should I care about either one of them? Or even both? One play summed it up for me. Christopher was playing his standard third base spot (Rafael is either a third baseman or shortstop so far) for South Bend in a July game. The hitter squeezed a double down the line between Christopher and the bag. Instead of the standard "Watch the ball roll into the left-field bullpen," the Big Mushroom chased the ball down the line.

If that doesn't sound like the Willson Contreras love of the game, I don't know what does. And Rafael might be better than his brother. It sounds as if the Cubs added two keepers from Santiago, Dominican Republic. Neither might be MLB good, but I'll give that desire the benefit of the doubt most of the time. Even with Mushrooms.