November 6th, 2022
MESA, Ariz. – The legend of Matt “Mash” Mervis just continues to grow.
Less than 24 hours removed from putting on a show during the Arizona Fall League Home Run Derby, the Cubs’ No. 21 prospect earned 2022 Fall Stars Game MVP honors after swatting an opposite-field two-run roundtripper to back the National League squad in its 9-3 victory over the American League at Sloan Park on Sunday afternoon.
Just a day before the Fall League paused for its weekend festivities, Mervis swatted his league-leading sixth home run for Mesa. He has played alongside Rays right-handed reliever Antonio Menendez over the past five weeks, but the AL/NL format pitted the two against one another Sunday.
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In addition to having to put familiars aside, Mervis had to deal both with the fifth inning’s encroaching shadows and Menendez’s three-pronged arm slot attack.
“I was a little pull happy the first two at-bats,” Mervis said. “I tried to get my swing off too much I think, and then I faced Tony – who’s got six arm angles and a bunch of different pitches – so I really had to see the ball and I think that got me back.
“The shadows are just another reason to lock in on the ball. If you’re trying to hit a certain way or think too mechanically, then you’ll swing and miss or mishit a pitch. I was really trying to just stay locked in on the ball coming out of the hand.”
Menendez said after the game that he and Mervis previously had extensive discussions on how to attack power-hitting left-handed batters. The righty quipped that with one pitch, he made the slugging 24-year-old a big leaguer.
Mervis arrived in Arizona with considerable pomp after he led the Minors in extra-base hits (78), total bases (310) and RBIs (119) and finished third in home runs (36). He has played his home games with the Solar Sox at the Cubs’ Spring Training complex, giving fans in attendance a potential preview of things to come.
Matt Mervis’ two-run home run
“I’m hoping to be in big league Spring Training with a lot more people here, and hopefully I can make them cheer, too,” Mervis said earlier this fall.
Last season’s Fall Stars Game MVP, the Marlins’ JJ Bleday, parlayed his success into making the leap to the big league level for the first time the following year. While Bleday and Mervis are both lefty swingers, their prospect paths have been starkly divergent: Bleday was the fourth overall selection in the 2019 Draft, whereas Mervis joined Chicago after going undrafted in 2020.
With the Draft shortened to just five rounds after Mervis’ final season at Duke, the “undrafted” tag doesn’t carry nearly the same heft. But after being highly sought in the free-agent market, the Washington, D.C., native inked a $20,000 bonus (the maximum allowed under pandemic rules) upon joining the Cubs. After scuffling in his pro debut in 2021, the collegiate hurler-turned-first baseman went back to work on recrafting a swing that has proven potent.
Mervis graduated High-A South Bend this year after just 27 games in which he hit .350 with a 1.039 OPS. He went on to clobber 14 homers in 53 contests with Double-A Tennessee, which paved the way for a two-month stint at Triple-A Iowa to close the year. He polished off the breakout season by posting a 152 wRC+ and .416 wOBA, putting him on the doorstep of Addison and Clark.
Despite the honorifics Mervis will be able to put next to his name heading into his third season of pro ball, he remains process-oriented. Citing a desire to give the Cubs further information on his swing and what he needs to continue working on, the 6-foot-4 masher has banked his own intel and is seeking to parlay it into future success.
“It’s pretty cool, I’m pretty excited about it,” Mervis said with a smile about the MVP honor. “There were a lot of fun moments throughout the year, but this is cool.”