Matt Mervis is “One of the Cubs’ Best Pure Offensive Prospects”

Tennessee Smokies first base prospect Matt Mervis remains one of the most interesting stories from the farm system this year. He’s gotta be on your radar going forward.

After breaking out at High-A South Bend, Mervis got the early bump to Double-A, where he’s hit a whopping .304/.358/.644/151 wRC+ over 151 plate appearances. He’s striking out 23.2% of the time, which might give you more pause if he weren’t also taking walks (8.6%) and hitting for such absurd power. Mervis’s .341 ISO leads the Southern League by 17 points, and the third place guy trails by nearly 80(!) points. (And those two guys just behind Mervis are 26 and 28, by the way.)

Mervis is hot pretty much every week, so it’s not a surprise that he got some love this week in Baseball America’s Hot Sheet. Still, the write-up is glowing:

Why He’s Here: .333/.385/.905 (7-for-21), 5 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 10 RBIs, 3 BB, 5 SO, 1-for-1 SB

The Scoop: A two-way player at Duke, Mervis signed with the Cubs as an undrafted free agent after the 2020 draft and has exploded with his focus solely on being a position player. Mervis had his latest big week at Double-A with five extra-base hits in six games against Chattanooga and is now batting .323/.371/.647 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in 62 games on the season. Though he’s older, Mervis is ascending the minors quickly and asserting himself as one of the Cubs’ best pure offensive prospects.

One of the Cubs’ best pure offensive prospects. High praise in a system with some excellent bats. Then again, Mervis has hit as well as anyone in the system this year, and as well as anyone in the Southern League.

I love being reminded of Mervis’s unique trajectory and background, which could help support a belief that what he’s doing isn’t necessarily a mirage, despite it seeming to arrive so quickly. Although he was “undrafted” in 2020, that was the five-round draft, and he very clearly would’ve been drafted in a traditional-lengthed draft. Perhaps even soon after the fifth round.

So, after the draft, he had no minor league season because of the pandemic. His non-game work with the organization was thrown off kilter by the same, and the 2021 season was his first chance to play games while focusing solely on offense. Because that season didn’t start for him until May and wrapped in mid-August, he got in only 72 games in his first pro season (three of those came in October in a quick fill-in at Triple-A Iowa).

That means this past offseason was his first “normal” offseason in the Cubs organization, and this season is his first “normal” regular season in the Cubs organization (while now being a one-way player). Would it really be so shocking that a guy with a ton of offensive potential could break out under those circumstances?

I think I was more dubious of Mervis’s success this year than I should have been. Sure, there will be struggles at some point, and more advanced pitchers will probably find enough holes (and execute better) to push that strikeout rate up. But guys who can hit the ball as hard as he can – and who can apparently adjust/develop as quickly as he can – often find a way to keep succeeding up the ladder.

Although he’s already 24, I suspect the Cubs will be fairly deliberate with Mervis’s promotion schedule from here. He isn’t eligible for the Rule 5 Draft until after next season, so I really doubt we would see him reach the big leagues this year under almost any circumstance (because then he’d be taking a 40-man spot all offseason when he didn’t “have to”). Instead, I think it’s possible we see Mervis get the bump to Triple-A late this year, and then start there again next season. At that point, he would be in a position to come up to the big league team whenever an opportunity arose, and it’s conceivable he could be given a real shot to hold down first base at some point next season (depending on offseason maneuverings).

It’s also possible Mervis finishes out this year at Double-A, and spends most of next year at Triple-A in a very step-by-step fashion. I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that this is a guy who has a total of 563 pro plate appearances right now. TOTAL. Spending the next year and a half at Double-A/Triple-A would hardly be weird or slow.

The challenge longer-term for Mervis is probably going to be the defensive limitation. He’s a first-base-only guy, which means the bat REALLY has to keep up the production in order to justify a big league roster spot down the road, to say nothing of a starting gig. You’d love to see a little versatility in there for the corner outfield spots in a pinch, but I’m not sure that will ever come.

For now, it doesn’t make sense to think about that stuff too much. Like I said, you just want to see him keep raking – or reach the struggles and then come out of it – and keep doing his thing at Triple-A whenever that arrives. Then you see where things stand with him and with the big league roster at some point next year.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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