Hitting over .300 in the Arizona Fall League has gotten Matt Mervis lots of attention. Should he have?
- Born: April 16, 1998
- B/T: Left/Left
- 6’4″, 225-lbs
- Drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Georgetown Prepatory School, then signed as a free agent by the Cubs in 2020.
His raw numbers are listed above courtesy of baseball-reference.com. Let’s aggregate by year then focus on the important numbers for minor leaguers:
After signing with the Cubs in 2020, he faced A-level pitchers at age 23. He showed decent bat control, but the power and run creation wasn’t there yet.
He started 2022 at High-A, and now it all came together for him. Power, on-base ability, run creation. His walk rate was low, and the strikeouts were a bit high, but it was a great 108 plate appearances.
He spent the rest of 2022 almost evenly split between Double-A and Triple-A, with the same power, the same run creation, and similar OBP and walk rates. To his credit, he reduced his strikeout rate as he climbed levels.
The power is legit, too, as he had a Hard Hit Rate of 32% this year.
I’m not going to break out the monthly splits for Mervis since his season was nicely split between levels.
Handedness K% and BB%
A (vs RH): 16%K and 5%BB. (vs LH): 40%K and 3%BB.
AA (vs RH): 18%K and 11%BB. (vs LH): 24%K and 4%BB.
AAA (vs RH): 13%K and 11%BB. (vs LH): 19%K and 9%BB.
He strikes out more agains lefties, and he draws fewer walks. Indeed, his OPS against RHP was 1.034 while against LHP was .869. Nothing wrong with an OPS of .869, but it’s clear he does most of his damage against righties.
Looks pretty good, actually, with even the scouts putting him into the Top 100.
But then I read about an eyewitness account ($) of his Arizona Fall League at bats from Keith Law:
So I’ve gotten a lot of questions about Cubs first baseman Matt Mervis, especially after he homered twice in a game last week. I saw all three of his homers during the week while I was there, and all three came on hanging breaking balls from right-handers, pitches he’s not likely to ever see in the majors. Mervis was undrafted twice out of Duke, graduating in 2020 and signing as a free agent with the Cubs, who started him in High A this year as a 24-year-old. He hit well enough there to move up to Double A, and again there to move up to Triple A, hitting .297/.383/.593 with just a 12 percent strikeout rate. He’s very strong, but does not have great bat speed, and even in the pitching-light AFL his difficulty with velocity middle-in or just in showed up very quickly; when pitchers did come inside, even with just average fastballs, he couldn’t do anything beyond popping them up. I could see a role for him as a platoon 1B/DH, like Daniel Vogelbach, but not beyond that.Keith Law
By the numbers, this is the Cubs’ next 1B. By that report above, he’s not as good as he appears. Minor leaguers can sometimes put up good numbers because they are facing lesser pitching. To his credit, Mervis wasn’t stopped no matter how high he climbed this year.
That said, there is a huge gulf between Triple-A and the majors, and MLB pitchers will quickly learn that Mervis cannot handle pitches in. He doesn’t have the bat speed to do much with them as long as the pitch quality is average or better.
What do you think Mervis will face in the majors? Right, average or better pitches, and with the best velocity he’s ever seen.
So good on him for making it this far, and if they can teach him how to handle inside fastballs better he might find major league success. But unless he can improve his bat speed, it’s more likely to be a platoon bat who hits for power, but not for average. And since he is limited to 1B or DH, he really needs to produce at the plate to have value.
So why is he becoming a Top-100 prospect? Because Triple-A pitchers didn’t defeat him. Until they see it on the field, they give him the benefit of the doubt. But the eyewitness report is very telling. Be warned, you know what to watch for.