MLB Network predicts two Cubs take big leaps in 2023


When Cubs fans tune into the first spring training action this weekend, they’ll have plenty of new names and faces to learn. Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Jameson Taillon, Trey Mancini and many more will all join the North Siders as they try to make the transition from rebuilders to contenders. On MLB Tonight, however, Carlos Peña and Ron Darling think a couple of the younger Cubs players will be the ones who take the biggest leap forward in 2023.

Peña started the conversation by bringing up last year’s rookie phenom Christopher Morel.

“This kid absolutely loves playing baseball, and it shows,” Peña said. “Everyone fell in love with Morel, with the attitude, with the energy. I expect him to make a huge leap here in his sophomore season.”

Morel will have a tough act to follow to top his 2022 debut. He began his career with an incredible streak of reaching base safely in 22 straight games, which was the fourth-longest streak of that kind in MLB history. Morel also flashed power (16 home runs), speed (four triples, 10 stolen bases) and versatility (played CF, LF, 2B, 3B, SS). He’s a promising young player, who could play his way into becoming a cornerstone if he continues on an upward trajectory.

Darling continued by suggesting Nico Hoerner could play even better in 2023, even though he is coming off an impressive 2022.

“I thought he had an outstanding season playing shortstop for the Cubs last year,” Darling said.

Hoerner’s numbers don’t pop off the page in any one area, but he gave the Cubs steady production across the board. Last year he slashed .281/.327/.410 with 10 homers, 55 RBI, 60 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.

The MLB Tonight crew was even more excited about the middle of the Cubs’ defense with Hoerner’s move to second base to make room for Swanson, the new shortstop.

“Let’s look up the middle at the best second baseman/shortstop combinations,” said Peña. “You wouldn’t think the Cubs right out the gate, but let’s look, because they are among the best in baseball.”

Peña pointed to a surprising metric that showed Hoerner and Swansby could be one of the best in baseball next year. The duo combined for a 10.2 WAR in 2022, which was the fourth highest in MLB, behind only Andrés Giménez/Amed Rosario for the Guardians (11.6), Jeff McNeil/Francisco Lindor for the Mets (11.1) and the Cardinals’ Brendan Donovan/Tommy Edman combo (10.5).

The Cubs finished third in the NL Central last year with a 74-88 record, and PECOTA doesn’t expect them to be much better this year. The oft-cited computer algorithm had the Cubs going 77-85 in its first set of projections this year. But it’s spring training. Hope abounds for each and every team. So if there was any time to get excited about the Cubs, it’s now. Have at it.

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