Mervis grateful for educational Classic experience

Wesneski's latest bid for 5th starter spot marked by K's, marred by homer

March 18th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- already cherishes the memory of hearing Israel's national anthem playing with his family in the stands in Miami. The Cubs' No. 7 prospect described crowds unlike anything he had experienced and spoke about the impact of conversations with Team Israel hitting coach Kevin Youkilis.

Needless to say, Mervis' time spent playing in the World Baseball Classic is something he will not soon forget.

"I'm just honored to have had the opportunity," Mervis said on Friday, when he rejoined Cubs camp after suiting up for Israel.

As part of Pool D in the Classic, Team Israel was in a challenging group featuring the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Mervis' squad went 1-3, with their lone victory being a 3-1 comeback win in Israel's opening game against Nicaragua.

In that win, the 24-year-old Mervis singled in his first at-bat of the tournament. The first baseman finished 1-for-13 with one walk in the Classic, while getting the chance to face big league arms like Edwin Díaz, Jesús Luzardo and Héctor Neris, among others.

"It just shows that I still have a lot of work to do," said Mervis, who went 3-for-4 with a double in Friday afternoon's 9-7 loss to the Dodgers. "I thought I had some good at-bats, but also didn't have great success. So it was a learning experience, for sure. And I got to work with some great coaches and other players.

"But, I also realized that if I'm going to play every day at the big league level like I want to, then I have things I need to work on."

Mervis was one of the breakout stories in the Minor Leagues last season, slashing .309/.379/.606 with 36 homers, 40 doubles and 119 RBIs combined across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. The Cubs have a pair of veterans for first base in Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini, but Mervis is very much on the radar for 2023.

"The main thing with Matt," Cubs manager David Ross said, "is he got a really cool experience playing in the WBC. Playing against some really good competition, some of the best in the world in that environment, is really important and an experience that I think you wish everybody could go through.

"We'll let him get back here, have his at-bats and see where things fall. It's nice to have him back in camp."

Wesneski’s latest bid in rotation race
Ross smirked on Friday morning when asked if he was getting closer to making a decision on the fifth starter in the Cubs' rotation.

"I don't even have the first starter, the Opening Day starter," Ross quipped. "We'll wait and see. All that stuff still remains to be played out. Guys are throwing, we're making sure everybody's healthy, lining things up."

The top three contenders for the lone rotation vacancy remain Javier Assad, Adrian Sampson and . In Friday's game against the Dodgers, Wesneski continued his bid with six strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings. The righty was charged with four runs -- three on a homer by slugger J.D. Martinez -- on four hits and two walks.

"The walks are what killed me -- that was it," said Wesneski, who has 17 strikeouts and four walks with a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings this spring. "Other than that, I can't be too upset with the outing. I just need to lock in a little bit more."

"It was crazy. I think there were probably 30,000-plus people at a couple of the games. They were loud and had drums and rattles. And obviously they're passionate, so any time their guys did something good or they scored a run or struck somebody out, it was loud and celebratory. But I had family and friends in the stands, and they said the fans were also very polite and appreciative of Israel going out there and playing hard." -- Mervis, on the Classic crowds in Miami

Worth noting
• Cubs righty Jameson Taillon had a planned simulated game washed away by rain on Wednesday. As a result, Taillon pitched in a Minor League game on Thursday, allowing four runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk over five innings (72 pitches).

"He's a strike-thrower, so that usually doesn't bode well for a Minor League outing," Ross said. "But all the numbers were there. It looked like he was able to, as the outing went on -- from the feedback that I got -- he just continued to get better and execute the things he was trying to do. So, all positive."

• Right fielder Seiya Suzuki (left oblique) played light catch on Friday morning. The sidelined outfielder has returned to taking non-contact swings and doing light running.