There was some muted hype around the Cubs’ signing of former Duke two-way star Matt Mervis as an undrafted free agent in the summer of 2020, but mainly among the more depraved prospect perverts out there. Or perhaps, as Tommy Meyers has coined them, Merverts. Except no one knew Mervis would eventually rise to cult legend status with the best offensive season by a Cubs prospect since Kris Bryant.
Well, okay, one person knew.
“I don’t look at last year to this year as a big jump or breakout season,” Mervis told NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer. “The numbers will say it’s a breakout, but this is what I knew I was capable of. This is what I expected last year. I didn’t expect to be at Triple-A, but I expected to be the same kind of player.
“The timeline was a little strange,” he said, “but this is about where I expected to be.”
That timeline included a canceled senior season at Duke, no minor league action in 2020, and a debut professional campaign in which he batted .204 with nine homers and an 85 wRC+ for Low-A Myrtle Beach. Mervis also got to play three games for Triple-A Iowa that year as COVID issues forced a drastic game of musical chairs late in the year.
The slugger worked with Justin Stone and the Cubs’ hitting instructors to tweak a few things with his swing in the offseason, but the biggest difference may simply have been to quit thinking so much. Rather than fixating on what he needed to correct after each game or at-bat, Mervis was able to relax in the confidence that his mechanics would win out.
His confidence has only grown at each level, to the point that he’s hitting for more raw power in Iowa than he did at High-A South Bend or Double-A Tennessee while also striking out less. He’s even getting less benefit from good fortune, as evidenced by a BABIP that has gone from .412 over 108 plate appearances with South Bend to .296 over 183 PAs with Iowa. The simple translation is that this isn’t a product of luck or small samples.
The combination of power, self-assuredness, and position has many looking at the first baseman as the next Anthony Rizzo. As lofty as that comp may seem, I saw it the first time I witnessed Mervis in person while on a trip to watch the Smokies. Call it corny or revisionist if you like, but just the way he carried himself threw off strong vibes that he was a dude.
My son and I were actually calling him “Never Nervous” Mervis at the time, but that eventually gave way to the now-ubiquitous nickname “Mash.” I don’t know that I necessarily coined it, but it was cool to be name-checked in Wittenmyer’s piece and to have worked with Mervis in the time since to expand the idea. If he blows up like I believe he will, I’m hoping to use some of the proceeds from t-shirt sales to help out local youth baseball orgs.
How can I get my hands on one (or 5) of these? https://t.co/yey4svYFRL
— Matt Mervis (@mmervis12) August 21, 2022
Rather than continuing to make it sound like I am somehow responsible for any of this success or that I saw something others didn’t, my point is to highlight the idea that people in Mervis’s orbit believe in him. I’m talking about the same way people gravitated to Rizzo, particularly in those early Cubs days when he tried to fight the entire Reds dugout. There’s just something different about him even if you can’t quite put your finger on it.
We’ll have to wait until spring training to see what Mervis can do in a Cubs uniform, but I’m convinced he’ll be able to build on this year’s success to become the everyday first baseman moving forward.