How Matt Mervis bet on himself

May 8th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- Matt Mervis remembers arriving to the ballpark early and seeing that Mike Roberts had already set up the batting cage for one-on-one morning sessions. The manager of the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod League would work with Mervis as long as needed, honing a swing that was very much a project.

“I think my leash was pretty short at that point,” Mervis said. “But he trusted me and he believed in me.”

Mervis was 21 years old and already at somewhat of a crossroads. He was a two-way player at Duke University and had plenty of coaches and evaluators sending mixed messages. A lot of people in Mervis’ ear told him his future would be on a mound, if there was to be a future in baseball at all. Internally, Mervis was convinced he could be a hitter.

“He's always wanted to be a hitter,” said Jeff Mervis, Matt’s dad. “I think some people saw him one way over the other.”

Mervis was asked why he trusted his own instincts over people along the way who told him to focus on pitching.

“Because I trusted that I knew better than them,” Mervis said. “I could tell when I got on the mound, yeah, I had a good arm, but I threw like a third baseman. I didn’t have great offspeed pitches.

“And every once in a while, I'd take a swing in-game and I would say, ‘If I can just do that over and over again, I know what I can do as a hitter.’ [It was] just the conviction in myself that I would develop into a better player than I was at that time, and all I needed was some reps.”

During that 2019 summer, under Roberts’ tutelage, Mervis found that swing, repeatedly. In 30 games, he hit .325/.418/.571 with four homers, seven doubles, 24 RBIs, nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (15) and a .989 OPS. It was the first domino in Mervis’ climb to the Cubs’ roster.

Mervis signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent out of Duke after the abbreviated five-round Draft during the pandemic. The first baseman then took off in ’22, posting a .984 OPS across three levels with 36 homers and 119 RBIs. Mervis reached the Majors on Friday after a strong start with Triple-A Iowa.

And, to this day, Mervis said he consults notes he took during those days working with Roberts, who had a stint as an instructor in the Cubs’ system during his long career in baseball.

“I have never felt as good as that summer,” Mervis said. “It was at some point there that it clicked.”