Matt Mervis has generated nothing but glowing reviews this season, which you’d expect when talking about a guy who came out of nowhere to be named the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year. The man now known as Mash hit 36 homers across three levels of the organization while improving his walk and strikeout rates at each level. He even upped his performance against southpaws, which had been a concern for the lefty batter earlier in the season.
Mervis has continued his hot hitting into the Arizona Fall League, where he currently boasts a 1.129 OPS with a league-leading four homers in just 24 at-bats. However, not everyone is impressed by what the former Blue Devil is doing. Keith Law’s writeup for The Athletic included a few subtle digs and one very questionable assessment that generated a mild kerfuffle on Twitter.
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.
The part about him going undrafted twice could have been merely expository, but the overall context of this blurb gave it decidedly negative connotations as I read it. Same for citing his age and initial assignment, then there was the note about the AFL being light on pitching. While some of that may be my personal interpretation, which is heavily colored by my disagreement with Law here, there’s no gray area when he says Mervis “does not have great bat speed.”
I have long maintained that the eye test is an integral part of scouting that can’t be fully replaced by data, but there are times when eyes don’t see the truth. It would appear as though Law’s breakdown contained a little recency bias, or perhaps he just made some assumptions based on what was a pretty limited sample. Aram Leighton of Just Baseball tweeted that Mervis had a .323/.417/.452 slash in Triple-A against fastballs that averaged 94 mph or higher.
Ed. note: I’ve been given reason to question the veracity of the data above, so it might be best to tread lightly there. That said, the overall body of work speaks for itself and I’m willing to trust it until proven otherwise.
The data would argue that bat speed is FAR from an issue. In 63 Triple-A games against four seamers Mervis hit:
.360/.461/.800 with 93% zone contact.
Against FB 94 MPH and above: .323/.417/.452. He was actually one of the better fastball hitters in the upper Minors.
— Aram Leighton (@AramLeighton8) October 18, 2022
When it comes to judging Mervis by the eye test, no one outside the Cubs coaching and development staff is more qualified than I-Cubs broadcaster Alex Cohen. And when Cohen says he’s seen Mervis blast a 98 mph fastball from a lefty 430 feet, I tend to agree with him that bat speed shouldn’t be a concern.
Respect @keithlaw. He went by what he saw.
I’ve seen Mervis pull an elevated 98 mph fastball off a lefty about 430 feet.
No concern about his bat speed. https://t.co/YcO7jzskJh
— Alex Cohen (@voiceofcohen) October 18, 2022
Law has built a ton of respect in the prospect scouting and ranking community, and for good reason. He isn’t prone to hyperbole and doesn’t get swayed by hype, though I have found there are times when he tends to skew to the negative almost for the hell of it. Even if that’s not the case here, I believe the report on Mervis is based on limited viewing and a lack of additional analytical input. Law went so far as to dismiss any contrary data as being inaccurate, which felt a little irresponsible.
We obviously won’t know whether Mervis is the next Anthony Rizzo, Justin Morneau, or Vogelbach until he’s gotten experience in Chicago. In the meantime, it seems kinda silly to go against the numbers — both in the box score and on the periphery — and what we’ve seen from the slugger all season long.