Matt “Mash” Mervis is well on his way to being named the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year behind the best offensive performance the organization has seen since Kris Bryant in 2014. But like the eventual Rookie of the Year and MVP, there’s no hurry to call Mervis up to the big leagues. As of now, the Cubs are planning to give the former Duke Blue Devil a chance to hone his skills in the Arizona Fall League and provide further proof that he’s ready.
You know, because batting .306 with 30 homers and 106 RBI isn’t enough evidence. Or maybe it is, though Cubs farm director Jared Banner remained coy while offering a series of exec-speak tropes to Paul Sullivan of the Tribune over the weekend.
“Anything is possible whenever you go to Triple-A and perform the way he has, put yourself on the radar,” Banner said. “But we’re taking things day by day, looking at helping him keep improving on a daily basis. That’s our focus. Everything else will take care of itself.”
Another focus for the Cubs heading into next season will be balancing what was supposed to have been a contact-heavy approach with an increase in power. There was some well-founded concern that their change in philosophy heading into this season was too extreme, and that’s been borne out as they lag well behind the league leaders in either contact or power.
Mervis alone isn’t the solution to that problem, but he sure seems to fit the bill.
“He really gets the bat through the zone quickly, so when he makes contact he does a lot of damage,” Banner explained. “And he makes a lot of contact, right? So when you have a hitter with that much power who doesn’t strike out a lot, it’s a pretty good combination.”
Even better than simply not striking out a lot is how Mervis has been able to improve his strikeout rate with each promotion. What’s more, he’s done it while maintaining his ISO — a measure of raw power — and benefitting from a decreasing amount of good fortune as measured by BABIP. Much of that is by design, stemming from offseason work with hitting director Justin Stone and the rest of the hitting staff, but a lot comes from sheer force of will.
“Oh, I hate striking out,” Mervis told the Tribune’s Meghan Montemurro. “Nothing makes me more angry than striking out. I feel I have pretty good bat control, a pretty good feel for the barrel and pairing that with when I get two strikes to not letting a pitcher strike me out. I feel like a lot of that is physical, but some of it is mental.”
After struggling to put everything together in his first professional season, Mervis learned to trust that the work he puts in will allow him to produce. Rather than overthinking things and pressing for power, the slugger steps to the plate with faith in the swing he’s built. That allows him to stay loose and react no matter the situation, and the results have served to boost his confidence with each promotion.
Despite almost all the metrics saying he should have already earned another promotion, the one number keeping Mervis in Iowa is 40. As in the roster that’s full for now. That means the Cubs would have to part with someone who’s currently rostered, whether it’s Frank Schwindel, David Bote, or any one of a number of other players. It’s an easier decision to make on paper than in real life, but it’s at least a little curious that the front office isn’t willing to make a tough call after last year’s trades.
So while we’ll probably have to wait for next year to see Mash Mervis make his Cubs debut, his legend is growing as quickly as the popularity of his moniker.
“I can’t imagine he doesn’t like it,” Banner said. “It’s a great nickname.”