The Cubs made a series of trades ahead of tonight’s game against the division rivals Pirates. More specifically, central defender Jason Heyward heads to the COVID-19 injured list. He won’t count in the 40-man roster while on the IL, and Chicago’s selected reliever Brandon Hughes to the majors in its place. The Cubs also opted Conner Menez to Triple-A Iowa and recalled rookie Christopher Morel of Double-A Tennessee.
The team did not say whether Heyward had tested positive for the virus. Manager David Ross told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian) he was battling body aches and dehydration, but is feeling better right now. Under 2022 league health and safety protocols, players who test positive are subject to a 10-day absence from the club, although it is possible to be reinstated in less time if the player has spent 24 hours or more without a fever, received a pair of negative PCR tests, and received approval from a team physician and the joint MLB/MLBPA committee (a panel of a league-appointed physician and a doctor appointed by the union).
Heyward set off for another slow offensive start. He hits just .208/.288/.264, collecting just three extra hits (two doubles and a triple) in 80 trips to the plate. That’s not too different from his .214/.280/.347 showing over 104 games last season. Aside from a resurgence during the truncated 2020 season, Heyward has posted average or worse numbers at the plate throughout his tenure in Chicago. The five-time Gold Glove award winner continued to play excellent defense in right field, and he worked as the team’s main center back this year.
Raphael Ortega will likely keep the center with Heyward out. The left-handed hitter owns a .236/.333/.361 line in 29 games while bouncing between the three outfield points and the designated hitter. Ortega, a deep fielder for most of his career, posted a career-best .291/.360/.463 last season. That solid work was backed up by a .349 batting average on balls in play that has regressed toward his career standards.
Morel could also work his way into the central midfield mix. The 22-year-old mainly played on the left side of the infield in his early minors, but he’s started logging more time at the outfield three-pointers lately. The Dominican Republic native is drawing praise from reviewers for his athleticism and arm strength, so he could play a multi-position role off the bench.
The right-hander Morel has been on the Cubs’ 40-player roster since the 2020-21 offseason, but this is his first promotion to MLB. He posted big numbers with the Smokies early on, hitting seven homers with a .306/.380/.565 line in 28 games. He ranked 16th among Cubs prospects at FanGraphs and 29 to Baseball America this past offseason. Both outlets suggested Morel’s propensity to swing and miss would likely keep him a utility type, but praised his power potential.
Hughes is also in position to make his MLB debut. The southpaw was a 2017 16th round pick from Michigan State. A college center outfielder, he converted to pitching in 2018 after a tough season at home plate in A-ball. Hughes went to the mound and posted excellent numbers in the minor leagues, with a 1.96 ERA in 91 2/3 innings of relief. He’s stoked 34.3% of career opponents against a manageable 8.6% walk percentage – the latter mark standing out as particularly impressive control for someone so new to throwing.
This season, Hughes split the year between Tennessee and Iowa. He’s yet to allow a run over 16 2/3 innings, serving just five hits and a trio of free passes while hitting 22. Hughes has never appeared on an organizational chart at FanGraphs or BA, but that dominance in the upper minors will earn him a big league look.
In other Cubs news, Ross provided reporters with an update on Marcus Stroman (via Bastien). The offseason signing has been out since May 8 after landing on the COVID roster but has been cleared to join the club. Stroman kicked off a bullpen session today and could make his next start if he responds well to today’s mound work.
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