Quick Pitch: Mervis Gets Call, Brown Moves One Step Closer to Wrigley, Swanson-Hoerner Combo Leading Cubs

Where were you when the Cubs announced Matt Mervis was starting his MLB career? The hulking first baseman should make his major league debut on Friday when the Cubs play the Marlins. I can neither confirm nor deny that the news broke the internet this afternoon.

I’m quite the contrarian, but I thought the Cubs could actually use Christopher Morel right now. Then again, Patrick Wisdom is on a Ruthian home run pace, while Eric Hosmer is slugging a puny .363 so far. Mervis can play first base and that’s about the only position Morel has yet to play. Hence, “Mash” found the chocolate bar with the golden ticket this morning. If I had to guess, Edwin Ríos, who makes Hosmer look like Hank Greenberg, will be the corresponding roster cut. Ríos still has a minor league option in his hip pocket and the Cubs genuinely like Hosmer.

One can only hope Mervis is ready, since he’ll enter Wrigley Field with a little more pressure on his shoulders than is warranted. Hopefully a combination of high expectations and Hosmer wrath from the home crowd won’t swallow the rookie whole. Hosmer and Trey Mancini should help the kid adjust, and there is room for all three on the roster. Hosmer was in fact signed to help his understudy transition to the bigs. There’s no time like the present.

In the meantime, the Mervis “first watch” is on: first hit, first home run, first RBI, etc. I doubt he’ll have the electric debut Morel did last season, but something like that would certainly give Cubs fans their greatest “I told you so” moment in team history. Mash’s minor league stats scream Anthony Rizzo II. As a rookie, Rizzo hit .285 with 15 home runs, 15 doubles, and 48 RBI. A similar line from Mervis would generate a much more significant “you did” from the front office. Implied, of course.

At least we won’t have to listen to any more of the weak rhetoric from Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins.

Midwest Farm Report

I believe the Cubs have a lot of great pitching in their minor league system, and if I were forced to choose my top three, it would be Ben Brown, Jackson Ferris, and Jordan Wicks. Most prefer Cade Horton over one or more of those three, and they might be right. If you add Hayden Wesneski to that crew, you’ve got the makings of an above-average major league rotation, if not better. Let’s temper our expectations for now.

Recently-promoted catcher Miguel Amaya caught four of Brown’s starts earlier this year.

“He’s nasty,” Amaya said. “He trusts his stuff, he attacks the zone and goes after hitters. That’s why he’s having success.”

Brown, who was acquired from the Phillies last year for David Robertson, has been nearly untouchable this season. The 6-foot-6 righty was 2-0 with a 0.45 ERA and 0.95 WHIP before matriculating to Iowa from Tennessee. He will start this evening’s game against Columbus and you can watch his Triple-A debut if you have access to MiLB.TV.

Brown has made great strides since joining the Cubs organization. He adjusted his arm action which gave his already electric fastball “more true ride,” according to Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register. The change also made it easier for Brown to throw his breaking balls for strikes. But it isn’t just merit alone that prompted the Cubs to promote Brown. Hawkins wanted to get the budding star out of the tackier baseball environment at Double-A.

“We’re candidly trying to figure out the effect of the baseballs in Double-A and how much that plays into the form of some guys,” Hawkins said. “He’s done really well, regardless, but getting him back to the old baseballs at Triple-A and getting back his comfort level there will be helpful to really have a better sense of how close he is to the big leagues.”

In other words, the pitching department wants to know if Brown’s elite spin rates are legitimate. His fastball is electric and he complements it well with an excellent curve/sweeper combination. Brown attacks the zone, something that Tommy Hottovy wants to continue to encourage.

“He’s coming at you,” Hottovy said. “He’s not afraid to attack the strike zone, and he’s not afraid to come at some of the best hitters in the league.”

Big League Chew

I don’t suppose we’ll ever know how high the front office was on Dansby Swanson compared to his peers this winter. Jed Hoyer reportedly had dalliances with Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa, both represented by Scott Boras. It’s fair to say Swanson wasn’t their top choice, but perhaps he should have been. Swanson has won over the fans and his teammates. He’s a winner, and a clutch performer, and Chicago’s double-play combination with Nico Hoerner at second has been nothing short of spectacular.

It hasn’t been talked about a lot, but like Hoerner, Swanson continues to improve each season. Defensive metrics aside, look what the pair has done offensively through 30 games with Hoerner leading off followed by Swanson.

  • Hoerner: .305/.352/.757, 106 OPS+, 23 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases.
  • Swanson: .295/.406/.799, 120 OPS+, 18 runs scored, and three stolen bases.

The duo is averaging 1.36 runs per game, a pace of 221 when scaled to 162 games. To put that in better perspective, Rafael Ortega, who led off a lot of Chicago’s games last year, scored 35 times in 118 games. The Cubs scored 657 runs in 2022, but this year they’re playing at an 810-run pace. That’s worth 15 extra wins, or, added to last season’s total, 89 overall.

I can’t remember when the Cubs last had a 1-2 combination like that at the top of their lineup. Dexter Fowler was great in 2016, but Joe Maddon generally shuffled the rest of the lineup based on matchups and rest days. David Ross runs with Hoerner and Swanson at the top on most game days, followed by Ian Happ. Chicago went 1-6 on their road trip, with losses in all five one-run games. That’s the only offensive hiccup the Cubs have had this season, however.

That said, Swanson is notoriously feast-or-famine and the Cubs are going to have to learn to work around that. The shortstop started the season with 10 hits in his first four games. He’s had nine multi-hit games as a Cub and another 13 where he failed to collect a knock. He didn’t hit a home run until April 27, and then he blasted his second of the season on May 1. He’s had a consistent career, it’s just that his 26-week path isn’t similarly non-deviating.

Correa has struggled this season and Bogaerts has cooled his pace a bit in recent weeks. Trea Turner, the fourth of this year’s excellent shortstop class, is still waiting on his breakout game of 2023. Swanson’s intangibles, however, are better than advertised. His reputation as a winner preceded his arrival at Clark & Addison, and he’s been an infectious roster presence. Hoerner alone sounds much more mature this year.

“Each season has such a different narrative, whether it’s lockout or COVID or everyone’s traded,” Hoerner said yesterday. “Those things were recent but so far away in a lot of ways. This season is exciting because the expectation for the team is a little unknown, and I think that’s an awesome thing in that it’s up to us to establish that. We’re [at] .500, but it feels like we could be in a much better spot than that.”

Winner winner, chicken dinner.

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