Cubs' Mervis continues to flex power in AFL

October 14th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs fans that made the journey to Sloan Park on Thursday night were treated to a Matt Mervis power display that gave rise to the term “moonshot.” The club’s No. 21 prospect homered twice deep to right field, sending the ball hurtling toward the ascending waning gibbous to help pace the Solar Sox to a 9-7 win over the Desert Dogs.

After mashing 36 homers during the Minor League regular season, the Minors’ leader in extra-base hits (78) has carried that power directly over to the Arizona Fall League; preceding the two homers, an RBI double to left-center field in the first simultaneously opened the scoring for Mesa and honed Mervis’ swing in.

“I think the double to left-center actually got me locked in,” Mervis said. “I’ve been off fastballs a little bit since I got down here. Just staying on a two-strike fastball the other way I think … kept my direction going through the middle and that let me pull the offspeeds.”

Mervis was first-pitch hunting in the third, walloping a solo homer deep beyond the Glendale bullpen in right field. He worked the count even in the seventh before unloading on a game-tying two-run shot to right-center. When each of Mervis’ roundtrippers left the bat, a jubilant roar rose up.

“I love it,” Mervis said of the Sloan Park atmosphere. “This is our home park. I’m hoping to be in big league Spring Training with a lot more people here and hopefully I can make them cheer too.”

Mervis is coming off a record-setting Minor League campaign which is doubly impressive when factoring in the inauspicious start to his pro career. Though the 2020 Draft was just five rounds long owing to the pandemic shutdown, the former Duke Blue Devil went undrafted. Then in his pro debut at Single-A Myrtle Beach last year, he slashed just .204/.309/.367 with nine homers in 69 games.

With a personal goal of reaching Triple-A by his second pro campaign, Mervis’ trajectory was sputtering. Following a challenging offensive year, the slugging first baseman went back to basics to revamp an approach that he deemed “too mechanical.”

“I’m appreciative of the struggles that I went through,” Mervis said. “Obviously, the game is hard, there’s ups and downs, it’s going to beat you up sometimes. I had to make some adjustments after that year.

“I tried to hit pitches a certain way instead of just trusting the work I put in before the game and just trusting my swing.”

The outcome? In addition to the Minors’ extra-base hit lead, Mervis compiled the most total bases (310) and RBIs (119), while finishing second in doubles (40), third in home runs (36), fifth in slugging (.606) and eighth in OPS (.984).

Last season, Cubs fans were treated to another breakout star among the Mesa roster: Nelson Velázquez. The power-hitting outfielder took home AFL MVP honors, having slashed .385/.480/.712 with nine home runs in 26 games. He parlayed that success into his Major League debut this past year with Chicago. Mervis was watching from afar.

“I know a bunch of guys that played in the Fall League last year, and obviously Nelson was the MVP,” Mervis said. “That was a lot of fun to watch.”

Mervis wasn’t the only member of the Cubs organization to power up. BJ Murray Jr. swatted an opposite-field two-run shot for the Solar Sox in the bottom of the second, which accounted for his first AFL knock. Murray, a corner infielder, posted an .839 OPS across 95 games between Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend in his first full pro season.

The long balls came in bunches for Mesa, with A’s No. 3 prospect Zack Gelof adding a multihomer performance of his own. The infielder swatted two solo shots – his first home runs of the fall campaign – knotting the game in the fifth before adding an insurance run in the eighth.