Cubs prospect Matt Mervis uses past struggles to propel career in Arizona Fall League

Chicago Cubs prospect Matt Mervis is living up to his nickname “Mash” at the Arizona Fall League, where he’s batting .308 and tied for second in home runs (5) through 11 games. (Photo by Austin Ford/Cronkite News)

PEORIA – Matt Mervis, a Chicago Cubs prospect with the nickname “Mash”, was looking for any opportunity to showcase his talents in order to increase his chances of one day making a 40-man major league roster. The Arizona Fall League, awash with baseball scouts and eagle-eyed executives, gives him the perfect platform.

Mervis has been a standout since he started playing with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Fall League, maintaining a .308 batting average through 11 games and tied for firt in home runs with five. His 1.108 OPS is good for fourth in the league overall.

“My goal is to keep getting at-bats,” Mervis said. “I want to get more reps, see more pitchers, particularly lefties. The more things thrown at me the better. It leads to more experience and more things in the memory bank.”

Mervis’s path has seen twists and turns, and the success he’s been able to accomplish so far hasn’t come easy.

Mervis was originally selected out of high school by the Washington Nationals in the 39th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, but elected to not sign and instead attended Duke University to play baseball.

While many athletes attend college to fortify their athletic abilities, Mervis made it a goal to prioritize his education as well. A political science major, Mervis was named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll in 2017 and 2018, making sure he left Duke with a quality education.

“It is one of the reasons I went to Duke,” Mervis said. “I went to a good academic high school, and it is something my parents and I both prioritize. One of the things we looked at in a college was a good academic school, and it just so happened that Duke was interested and pretty much everything just fit.”

His baseball career at Duke was anything but standard. Mervis was a two-way player in his first three years at the university, a pitcher who could throw 92-mph heat and dominate at the plate. While statistically his numbers on the mound were not terrible, Mervis believed his best shot of one day making a major league roster would be to exclusively play the field. His senior year, he made the change.

“I have always seen myself as a hitter. I pitched because I threw hard and I was able to play,” Mervis said. “At the time I was not really getting at-bats, so pitching got me on the field. I have always known that I am a hitter, it just took me a little longer with some more at-bats to develop to the point where I am at now, but it has always been my goal to be a hitter.”
The 2020 pandemic cut short his senior year, causing him to forfeit the remainder of his collegiate eligibility and bringing his career at Duke to an abrupt end. Although Mervis was not selected in the 2020 MLB Draft, he signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs shortly after.

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During his first year with the organization, Mervis put up a mediocre offensive performance with a .204 average over 69 games with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Single-A affiliate of the Cubs.

“I struggled last year in Myrtle Beach pretty much the entire year. I just really had to look back in the offseason and see what I needed to improve on and one of those things was just getting out of my own head,” Mervis said.

The following year, he did exactly that and more.

After playing 137 games among three different levels of the minor leagues with the Cubs this past season, Mervis, 24, had a collective batting average of .309, earning him the organization’s 2022 Minor League Player of the Year award.

“I really just focused on keeping my swing simple and repeatable,” Mervis said, referring to his improvements from the 2021 season. “I just trusted myself that my swing would work that day and if it did not, just take that same swing into the next day and trust it. I don’t want to sound completely like the underdog, but that is how I look at it. I was not drafted and I was not a priority. It means a lot that the Cubs recognized me this year and gave me the honor.”

Mervis is taking advantage of an opportunity to build on his success in the Fall League, drawing attention from Solar Sox coaches and teammates. His goal is to make the Cubs Opening Day roster in 2023.

Eric Patterson, the Solar Sox assistant hitting coach, has been impressed with Mervis’s accomplishments during his time in the Fall League.

“He is going out and competing,” Patterson said. “He is not worried about the outside noise. He is really internally focused and he has had a lot of success this year and has a good idea of where he is at. My job is to continue to keep him on that path and if he gets off a little bit just to get him back on.”

Owen Caissie, who spent the 2022 season at High-A affiliate South Bend alongside Mervis, said he noticed Mervis’ hitting mindset has expanded. Caissie believes Mervis has refined his approach every time he’s at the plate and is repeating it.

Fellow Cubs prospect BJ Murray Jr. echoed Caissie’s sentiment, saying that Mervis’s mindset has been his strong suit not only with the Fall League, but with the Cubs organization. While Murray Jr. has only spent limited time with Mervis in Instructional League play, he said he has seen Mervis improve as a hitter in the Fall League more than he did last year.

“I think it’s just more simple,” Murray Jr. said of Mervis’s improvements as a hitter. “I mean, he’s always been a great player though, a strong dude. So I think it’s just more simple than just trusting himself.”

Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Keenan O’Rourke expects to graduate in May of 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. O’Rourke has covered ASU baseball for Blaze Radio.

Austin Ford aws-tin fohrd
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Austin Ford expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Ford is interning with PBS NewsHour West.