Sunday Notes: Cubs prospect Matt Mervis Can Mash

Matt Mervis didn’t get a ton of opportunities to hit at Duke University. He hit a ton this summer in his second full season of pro ball. Signed by the Chicago Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in 2020, the 24-year-old first baseman went deep 36 times across three levels — 15 of his dingers came in Triple-A — while slashing a robust .309/.379/.606. Currently competing in the Arizona Fall League, he has four home runs to go with an 1.103 OPS in 36 plate appearances with the Mesa Solar Sox.

Mervis’s ability to clear fences is his calling card, but that’s not how he views himself as a hitter.

“I have power, but I wouldn’t call myself a power hitter,” said Mervis, who went into yesterday as the AFL’s co-leader in home runs along with Heston Kjerstad. “I like to be a hitter. I hit for average and hate striking out. I try to move the ball, and if it turns into a double or a home run that’s great. I’m a big guy and hit the ball hard naturally, so it was really just simplifying my swing that led me to driving the ball more this year.”

Mervis does recognize that extra-base power is a big part of what will get him to the big leagues. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, slashing singles would be a path to nowhere.

“I’m a left-handed-hitting first baseman and it’s what we’re supposed to do in a lineup,” acknowledged Mervis. “That was the case long before the game turned to home runs and strikeouts. I grew up watching guys like David Ortiz, Prince Fielder, and Anthony Rizzo, a bunch of left handed hitters with a bunch of power. I don’t put pressure on myself to do that, but I obviously want to hit home runs and help us win.”

As recently as four years ago, he was helping win games with his arm. Mervis was primarily a pitcher for his first two collegiate seasons, making 41 appearances — all but one in relief — while logging just 10 at-bats. Add in a senior year that was cut short by the pandemic and he entered pro ball with a relative dearth of hitting experience. Unaccustomed to ups and downs, Mervis tinkered repeatedly during a lackluster 2021 campaign in which he logged a .677 OPS. Eliminating excess thoughts of swing mechanics played a big role in his 2022 breakout.

“I try to be simple,” Mervis said when asked about his mechanics. “I have a pretty balanced stance with my hands in front of my shoulder. I kind of model my stance off of Rizzo and [Kyle] Schwarber when they were with the Cubs. With my swing, I just think ‘flat’ and try to be in the zone for a long time. Obviously, while I think flat, it’s not actually straight across the zone — it’s got a little tilt — but again, I don’t think about it too much. I just take my natural swing and try to drive the baseball.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Jorge Orta went 25 for 50 against Dennis Eckersley.

Kirk Gibson went 9 for 14 against Mark Clear.

Bill Mazeroski went 22 for 55 against Stu Miller.

Hal Smith went 10 for 23 against Bob Lemon.

Bucky Dent went 15 for 36 against Luis Tiant.

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Brady Singer had a breakout season for the Kansas City Royals, and an improved sinker is a big reason why he did. As my colleague Jake Mailhot explained last month, the 26-year-old right-hander added three inches of drop while also improving the pitch’s overall shape.

With Jake’s article in mind, I asked Singer how he made the offering better.

“I kind of went back to what I was throwing in college,” said Singer, whom the Royals drafted 18th overall in 2018 out of the University of Florida. “We changed the tilt on where my hand position was, and from there, it just kind of came naturally. We got right around that 1:15-1:30, and I’m getting a lot more movement than I had the last two years.”

Singer made the adjustment in early April, prior to a three-week demotion to Triple-A, and once he regained full feel of his old grip, he thrived. Establishing himself as Kansas City’s most reliable starter, he finished the a 3.23 ERA and a 3.58 FIP in 153-and-a-third innings. As for why he’d gotten away from something that had helped make him a first-round pick, that was mostly a matter of inattentiveness, not by design.

“Honestly, I don’t really know,” the former Florida Gator admitted. “I just kind of lost it. The tilt slowly crept up on me, but somebody saw that and we talked about it. It made sense, so we changed the tilt. From there, my sinker came back.”

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A quiz:

The last Cleveland team to win the World Series, the 1948 Indians, had three pitchers who are now in the Hall of Fame. Bob Feller and Bob Lemon are two. Who is the third?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Moe Savransky, a left-handed pitcher who appeared in 16 games for the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1954, died earlier this month at age 93. Savransky allowed 13 runs in 24 innings and was on the losing end of both of his decisions.

Jim Bailey, a left-handed pitcher whose big-league career comprised three games with the Cincinnati Reds in 1959, died earlier this month at age 87. The Strawberry Plains, Tennessee native was the younger brother of Ed Bailey, who caught for 14 big-league seasons.

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The answer to the quiz is Satchel Paige. Playing in his first MLB season at age 42, the Negro Leagues legend appeared in 21 regular season games and went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA. He faced two batters in the World Series and retired both.

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Joe Mack hopes to catch for the Miami Marlins for a long time. Reaching the big leagues will be the first step. Drafted 31st overall last year out of an upstate New York high school, the left-handed-hitting backstop won’t celebrate his 20th birthday until December.

His attitude belies his youth and inexperience.

“I see myself as a leader on the field,” Mack said prior to a recent Arizona Fall League game with the Mesa Solar Sox. “As a catcher, I’m the one looking at everybody, and everybody is looking at me. I’m involved in every play. I’ve also been told by coaches and a few of my old [high school] teachers that I’m kind of a natural leader. I think that kind of displays itself on the field a little bit. I’m always trying to keep everybody in the game, as focused as possible.”

Mack began wearing the tools of ignorance just short of 10 years ago. The youngster volunteered to go behind the plate when his Little League team’s catcher was struggling, and the rest is history. He’s been strapping on the gear ever since.

His hitting remains a work in progress. Employing a contact-oriented approach with two strikes, and looking to drive the ball into a gap with fewer than two strikes, Mack has a modest .718 OPS in 258 professional plate appearances. He spent the bulk of the 2022 season with the Low-A Jupiter Hammerheads.

From a physical standpoint, the athletic 6-foot-1, 218-pound Mack is similar to a Hall-of-Fame-bound San Francisco Giants catcher who retired following the 2021 season. Not surprisingly, Buster Posey has served as a role model for the up-and-coming backstop.

“A lot of it was his presence behind the plate,” Mack said of the seven-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion. ”He was also smart back there. He was in the bigs for a long time, and it takes a lot to stay there for a long time. The guys with the smarts and the perspicacity are often the ones who are able to do that. Hopefully I can be that guy for the Marlins.”

No player I’d interviewed previously had ever used the word “perspicacity.” Would Mack have been an English major had he gone the college route rather than signing with Miami out of Amherst, New York’s Williamsville East High School?

“No chance,” Mack replied with a laugh. “No way.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The NPB draft took place earlier this week, with the Nippon-Ham Fighters making two notable selections. In the first round, the Fighters — the team that developed Shohei Ohtani — took Kota Yazawa, a two-way player at Nippon Sport Science University. In the third round, they selected Gosuke Katoh, who made his MLB debut with the Toronto Blue Jays this summer before going on to finish the season in Triple-A with the New York Mets.

The Yakult Swallows beat the Orix Buffaloes 5-3 in Game 1 of the Japan Series. Triple Crown-winner Munetaka Murakami hit one of the three Yakult home runs, while former Miami Marlins right-hander Scott McGough earned the save.

The Kiwoom Heroes beat the KT Wiz 4-3 in a deciding Game 5 and will go on to face the LG Twins in the next round of the KBO playoffs. The Twins received a bye after posting the second-best record in the regular season. SSG Landers, who had the best regular season record, will play the winner of that series in the best-of-seven Korean Series.

The Australian Baseball League’s Auckland Tuatara have signed Tzu-Wei Lin for the upcoming season. The 28-year-old erstwhile Boston Red Sox infielder was released by the New York Mets in August.

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Which matchup would you prefer seeing in the World Series? I asked that question earlier this week, with Houston — a team many fans love to hate — faring better than expected. Astros-Padres received 35.4% of the vote’s cast, while Astros-Phillies garnered 25.1%. Less-preferable of the four possibilities were Yankees-Padres at 21.1%, and Yankees-Phillies at 18.3%.

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FARM NOTES

Zac Veen leads the Arizona Fall League in stolen bases with 13. The 20-year-old Colorado Rockies outfield prospect swiped 55 bags in 64 attempts this season between High-A Spokane and Double-A Hartford. He’s been nabbed once in the AFL.

Austin Martin is slashing .474/.563/.605 in 48 plate appearances with the AFL’s Glendale Desert Dogs. The 23-year-old shortstop in the Minnesota Twins system has one home run and seven steals in eight attempts.

Nick Yorke is slashing .340/.439/.472 in 66 plate appearances with the Scottsdale Scorpions. The 20-year-old second baseman in the Boston Red Sox system has an AFL-high seven doubles.

Grant Lavigne is slashing .389/.476/.611 in 42 plate appearances with the Salt River Rafters. The 23-year-old first baseman in the Colorado Rockies system counts six doubles and one triple among his 14 hits.

Phoenix Municipal Stadium was the site of an Arizona Fall League triple-header yesterday. The former spring training site for the San Francisco Giants (1964-1981) and the Oakland Athletics (1982-2014) boasts an historic characteristic: the foul poles are the same ones that stood at New York City’s Polo Grounds in the 1940s and 1950s.

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I occasionally ask minor-league hitters which of the pitchers they faced in the current season most stood out — basically, who had them walking away from the dish thinking, “This dude is nasty.” On Thursday, I posed that question to Jordan Walker, the top-rated prospect in the St.Louis Cardinals system.

“There are a few of them, man,” responded the 20-year-old outfielder. “Off the top of my head, I’d say Prelander Berroa and Taylor Dollard from the Arkansas Travelers, and Bobby Miller from the Tulsa Drillers. Really, I think it was more team-based, because those teams had back-to-back-to-back arms. Wichita, too. So I’d say it was the Travelers, which is the Mariners, Tulsa, which is the Dodgers, and the Wichita Wind Surge, which is the Twins.”

Following up, I asked the promising young hitter if any of Berroa, Dollard, and Miller stood out more than the others.

“They all have nasty stuff,” replied Walker. “If it’s nasty, it’s nasty. They were all really tough at-bats for me. I’d group those three together at the top.”

Dollard and Berroa are No. 3 and No. 17 respectively on on our Mariners Top Prospects list. Miller is No. 2 on our Dodgers list, and No. 40 in our Top 100.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At the Yonhap News Agency, Jeeho Yoo wrote about how San Diego Padres shortstop Ha-Seong Kim 김하성 could become the first South Korean player to be awarded an MLB Gold Glove.

Purple Row’s Joelle Miholm wrote about Colorado Rockies third baseman Ryan McMahon being named a Gold Glove finalist despite having a high error total.

Jim Thorpe almost became a Pittsburgh Pirate in 1912. Pete Peterson has the story at Pittsburgh Quarterly.

Dan Budreika, a former FanGraphs contributor who has worked for the Miami Marlins and the Cleveland Guardians, published an R study on WAR buckets.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Jorge Mateo had 417 assists this season, the most of any player. The Baltimore Orioles shortstop had 14 DRS, the eighth highest among infielders.

Ozzie Smith has the single-season record for assists by a shortstop. The Wizard had 621 assists with the San Diego Padres in 1980.

The single-season record for assists by a second baseman is 641, by Frankie Frisch in 1927. The Fordham Flash was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Los Angeles Dodgers stole 198 bases in 1962, with Maury Wills accounting for 104 of them. The 1962 Minnesota Twins, who won 91 games, stole 33 bases.

Andre Dawson had a .279 BA, 438 HR, 1,591 RBI, 314 SB, and a 119 OPS+.
Carlos Beltrán had a .279 BA, 435 HR, 1,587 RBI, 312 SB, and a 119 OPS+.

In 1928, Boston Braves second baseman Rogers Hornsby had a 196 wRC+ and 9.0 WAR. His double-play partner, Doc Farrell, had a 42 wRC+ and minus -2.6 WAR.

On today’s date in 2004, Mark Bellhorn hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Boston Red Sox an 11-9 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series. Four days earlier, Bellhorn’s three-run homer helped lift the Red Sox to a 4-0 win over the New York Yankees in ALCS Game 6.

On today’s date in 1993, Hall of Fame broadcaster Tom Cheek’s call of Joe Carter’s World Series-winning three-run homer was punctuated with, “Touch ’em all, Joe!” You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!” The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6.

Players born on today’s date include Rube Bressler, who went 10-4 with a 1.77 ERA for the Philadelphia Athletics in his 1914 rookie season, and 4-17 with a 5.20 ERA the following season. Converted to a position player a few years later, Bressler batted .350 with a 142 wRC+ with the Cincinnati Reds from 1924-1926.

Also born on today’s date was Birdie Cree, an outfielder who logged a 123 wRC+ playing for the New York Highlanders/Yankees from 1908-1915. The Khedive, Pennsylvania native slashed .348/.415/.513 in 1911.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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tz
3 months ago

You’ve made the most concise case for Carlos Beltran going to Cooperstown. Of all the players with careers worth of HOF consideration, those two might be the closest matched pair in terms of both numbers and career narrative.

sadtrombonemember
3 months ago
Reply to  tz

Was Andre Dawson implicated in the biggest cheating scandal of his era? That’s basically the only reason Beltran is in doubt.