Mervis' busy spring preparing him for Majors
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On a recent morning at the Cubs' complex, Matt Mervis watched how veteran Trey Mancini went about hitting off a curveball machine in the cage. The prospect monitored Mancini's pace between pitches and what adjustments he made from swing to swing.
"I was just studying the focus and the intent," said Mervis, standing at his locker on Sunday morning.
Learning through observation has been Mervis' plan of attack for his first Major League spring, in which he has a pair of World Series winners in veterans Eric Hosmer and Mancini. Mervis has been watching their daily routines and their approach to defensive work, as he finds his own path to the big leagues.
One year ago, Mervis was in Minor League camp, preparing to open the season with High-A South Bend. After authoring one of the top breakout stories in all of the Minors last year, the first-base prospect is now in camp with Chicago and on the cusp of a call to Wrigley Field.
"It happened fast, but this is what I expected," Mervis said. "When I signed, this was the vision I had in my head -- realistic or not, I didn't know at the time. But I was expecting to be in Triple-A by the end of my second year and knocking on the door to the big leagues.
"That's the position I put myself in and hopefully I just capitalize from here."
The 25-year-old Mervis was signed by the Cubs out of Duke as a non-drafted free agent following the abbreviated, five-round 2020 MLB Draft. His professional debut in '21 was underwhelming, but alterations to his swing and approach led to a jaw-dropping showing in '22.
All told between the Minor League season and the Arizona Fall League, Mervis launched 42 home runs with 131 RBIs and 104 runs scored in 154 games. As he climbed from High-A to Triple-A, the lefty masher turned in a .309/.379/.606 slash line in 137 games.
Remarkably, Mervis' strikeout and walk rates improved with each promotion:
- High-A: 4.6 BB%, 24.1 K%
- Double-A: 8.7 BB%, 20.0 K%
- Triple-A: 10.4 BB%, 14.6 K%
"I'm happy with where my swing's at mechanically," Mervis said. "It's just continuing to work on swinging at the right pitches, getting myself in good counts and, if I get something good to hit early in the count, then be aggressive on that and not miss it.
"Mechanical work can be done early in the day. And then once the game starts, it's just hitting."
During Sunday's 9-4 loss to the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch, Mervis drew a pair of walks against lefty pitchers Robbie Erlin and Alex Vesia. After both Hosmer and Mancini played in Saturday's Cactus League opener for the Cubs, Mervis got the start at first base.
Mervis enjoys talking about the nuances of hitting and, by all accounts, is a keen self-evaluator in that area. And while Mervis is young on experience, Mancini said he has had to remind himself that the Cubs' No. 21-ranked prospect in 2022 has yet to play in the Majors.
"I've been very impressed with him," Mancini said. "Just the way that he kind of carries himself and goes about his business. It seems like he has some experience at the big league level. You always forget that he's a younger guy and was in the Minors last year."
Cubs manager David Ross has been impressed to this point in camp, too.
"I mean, I think the first thing I thought was like, 'He's a big human being,'" Ross quipped. "His presence in the box. How simple his swing is. He asks a lot of the right questions. He's got a really nice way about how he thinks about the game, how he thinks about his team. He's a worker and a guy that is very focused and commited to his craft."
Mervis plans on continuing that work with Team Israel later this spring in the World Baseball Classic. Israel has been placed in Pool D with Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, with the first round of games set for March 11-15 in Miami.
The first baseman is excited to experience the raucous Classic environment and hit in high-leverage situations. Beyond that, Mervis cited the chance to work with manager Ian Kinsler, bench coach Brad Ausmus and hitting coach Kevin Youkilis, and be in the dugout with players like Joc Pederson and Ryan Lavarnway, among others.
"It's like how we mention Mancini and Hosmer here," Mervis said. "There's guys over there that I can learn a lot from, too."