Matt Mervis Still Mashing in Iowa as He Works Works Toward Second Chance (Updated)

Update: Mervis has been recalled to Chicago along with Hayden Wesneski. No corresponding moves have been announced yet, but Wesneski can only come back up as an injury replacement. Could Kyle Hendricks be dealing with something? Ian Happ seemed like an IL possibility, but he told 670 The Score he intends to play tonight. That could mean Garrett Cooper or another move. So many possibilities. More to come.

Update 2: According to superfan Sam Bernero, who’s known for tracking the comings and goings at Wrigley and snapping pictures of the players, Cooper just left the ballpark. Jesse Rogers subsequently confirmed on ESPN 1000 that Cooper is being DFA’d.

Matt Mervis was named the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year following a breakout 2022 campaign that saw him slash .309/.379/.606 with 36 homers and 40 doubles across three levels. Though he wasn’t quite as hot last season at Triple-A Iowa, he did well enough to earn a promotion to Chicago. Disappointing as the stats may have been on paper, Mervis hit the ball hard and showed signs of figuring things out prior to being sent back down.

The Cubs just didn’t feel like they were in a position to prioritize development over winning, especially not after allowing Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini to rack up a combined 363 plate appearances before ending those experiments. So Mervis ended up with just 99 PAs, one less than Hosmer, and spent the last three months of the season back at Triple-A.

Even those of us who stan him the hardest saw some things he needed to work on, namely being more aggressive early and not getting into situations that caused him to chase when behind in the count. Some believe his bat speed can’t catch up to MLB pitching, but the issue was probably more a matter of approach than physical ability.

“Obviously the time in the big leagues was frustrating,” Mervis told Jordan Bastian back in March. “That’s not how I wanted my first stint to go, but I definitely learned a lot and talked to a bunch of guys who have been there for a while and had success, like Nico [Hoerner]. I’m learning from guys who have gone through it.

“There are plenty of guys who go up and struggle for the first time. I’m not hitting the panic button. I’m just trying to learn from it.”

It’s tough to make adjustments during the season, particularly at the highest level and even more particularly when your playing time isn’t consistent. Whether it was playing time, putting pressure on himself to perform, or just the fact that baseball is a really difficult sport, Mervis admitted that he struggled a bit to find a groove.

“Mechanically, in ’22, I just kind of rolled up to the field and I had a swing that I liked and I was able to go play,” Mervis said. “Last year, I didn’t quite have the same feeling. I knew I needed to address that and find a couple of things that I wanted to work on and take with me into the season, so I can kind of have some checkpoints.”

That led him to Maven Baseball Lab in Atlanta over the winter to work on a more data-driven approach when it came to breaking down his swing. As Mervis explained to Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register, he was trying to be less east-west in favor of getting into the zone early and staying through the ball. He also developed new hitting drills that should allow him to find and stay in his swing more consistently.

It sure seems to be working, as Mervis is once again proving that he’s too much for Triple-A pitching. He’s posting a .288 average with a 1.008 OPS and five homers through 82 plate appearances with the I-Cubs this year, plus he’s walking at nearly a 15% clip while maintaining close to a 23% strikeout rate. That all works out to a 151 wRC+, just one point shy of his mark at the same level two years ago.

There’s just one problem: Michael Busch also hits left-handed and is batting .309 with a 1.002 OPS, six homers, and a 174 wRC+ as the Cubs’ primary first baseman. Yes, that’s the same guy who slashed .167/.247/.292 with a 49 wRC and -0.5 fWAR over 81 PAs with the Dodgers last season. Weird how just a month or so of action isn’t career-defining.

Another complicating factor is that Craig Counsell has used the DH spot as a revolving door of sorts, with three players already getting at least 20 plate appearances there. A lot of the rotation is based on keeping his outfielders fresh, particularly with Ian Happ nursing a balky hamstring since spring training.

Christopher Morel and Garrett Cooper have gotten the most run at DH so far and project to do so the rest of the way, though both are right-handed hitters. Of course, Morel might be in need of a break as his batting average plummets. He’s never been as good a hitter when he’s not also playing the field, something we’re seeing with his .174/.269/.391 slash and 85 wRC+ over 26 PAs. Cooper’s production has been even worse, with his 53 wRC+ and 0.13 BB/K ratio in 25 PAs.

These are small samples, to be sure, but they’re early indicators that the Cubs might be better served by giving Mervis another shot. With just one total homer from the DH spot over their first 22 games, it can’t really hurt and might even provide a boost to an offense that still tends to run a little more hot/cold than most would like. That would probably require a more permanent personnel move, though, and the Cubs don’t like to make those decisions unless they absolutely have to.

“I’m behind a bunch of people again and now I have to work my way back,” Mervis admitted to Birch.

The final thing to consider here is that there’s no reason to keep Mash in Iowa at this point. He’s not going to learn anything new and any proof that he’s a dude can only be found in the big leagues. So if they’re not going to promote him, the next-best reward would be to find him an opportunity to get a roster spot with another team that can give him a chance to play regularly.

Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but it does guarantee honesty and Mervis deserves a chance to find the truth.

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