Cubs GM Carter Hawkins Says Matt Mervis Has ‘Earned the Opportunity’ at 1B

With all the buzz about free agency and trades dominating the headlines, it’s easy to forget that the Cubs have lots of internal decisions to make this winter. Many of those have to do with a 40-man roster crunch that Jed Hoyer said is “much more complicated” than in most offseasons. It doesn’t help that those choices on which prospects to protect from the Rule 5 Draft are due by November 15, about two weeks before the deadline has been set in the past.

The Cubs are notorious for finding ways to string things out until the last possible moment, so it’s possible — likely, even — that timing will keep them from making what would otherwise be an obvious move. By that, I mean adding Matt Mervis to the 40-man following a breakout season in which he destroyed four different leagues and was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year.

Because Mervis isn’t eligible for the Rule 5 Draft yet, the Cubs may avoid adding him in order to have one more spot available, after which they can still shuffle things around. But don’t mistake such a procedural move for anything definitive, because it sounds like the front office knows as well as the fans that the man now known as Mash deserves a shot at filling the big hole at first base.

“Certainly has a chance,” Carter Hawkins told Marquee’s Taylor McGregor at the GM Meetings in Las Vegas. “What an unbelievable year for him, starting in A-ball and being the MVP at the Arizona Fall Stars game. I mean, it’s kind of a Cinderella story there. But I think if you talked to Matt, he would tell you he expected every second of it.

“Yeah, he’ll be competing going into spring training. I think it’s great to have depth on the team and obviously we’d love to have options at first base, but he’s certainly one that’s earned the opportunity to get the opportunity early in the season and if he continues to progress at the rate he is right now, it’d be hard to stop him.”

Damn right he’s earned it. Mervis finished his season with a .307 average, 42 homers, and 131 RBI across three levels of the minors and the Arizona Fall League. And he did all that with an aggregate 17.9% strikeout rate that dropped with each new step in his journey. His walk rate improved dramatically at each level of the minors, though he only took four free passes in 61 AFL plate appearances.

Then again, he only struck out six times while hitting six homers to pace the league. He’s ready even if not everyone is ready for him to be.

Cubs fans are an odd breed and some of them are so emotionally scarred by past traumatic experiences with prospects that they’ll just start rattling off the names of first basemen who didn’t pan out when they hear anything good about Mervis. While those folks will chortle with perverse glee should the Duke product be unable to hit more than just hanging breaking balls, I believe their mouths will be too full of crow to make much noise come April.

As I’ve shared before, my personal assessment of Mervis is based on more than the numbers he was able to put up. Corny as it sounds, I could tell from watching how he dug at the plate and jogged out to his spot at first during a weekend in Tennessee that he was, in prospect parlance, a dude. Not that I was the first or only observer to notice this, just that it’s why I think he’ll make it.

That’s something I’d like to explore with him when he joins us on The Rant Live here in a couple weeks, so be on the lookout for that.

The Cubs need to improve their power production and they really could use a big boost in left-handed pop. Their first basemen collectively ranked 25th in MLB with and 86 wRC+ and they were 24th at -0.6 fWAR this past season, so a replacement-level player would be a big improvement. Mervis can be far more than that and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he’s able to do as part of a revamped roster that could open a few eyes.

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