The Cubs have gotten very disappointing production from a slew of first basemen this season and injuries are forcing David Ross to play musical chairs with the lineup, but there’s at least one obvious move they aren’t ready to make. Despite a desperate need for left-handed power and a presumed desire to figure out what they’ve got for the future, Matt Mervis is going to remain at Triple-A Iowa for the immediate future. That will probably change at the trade deadline, which is more about the team’s direction than anything.
Before continuing, I just want to note how odd it is to me that so many people have already given up on a guy who underperformed in 99 inconsistent plate appearances over his first 27 MLB games. That’s hardly an adequate sample, yet several Cubs fans are willing to write Mervis off as being over-hyped. I think the immediate success of prospects in 2015 may have broken people’s brains.
There’s no denying the box score numbers weren’t great and that Mervis got out of the balanced plate approach that made his power production even more impressive. However, he ranks second on the Cubs this season in hard-hit rate (50%) and third in barrel rate (13.8%), both of which are well above league average (38.3%, 7.7%). His .218 BABIP indicates he was the victim of bad luck, some of which was admittedly of his own making due to a 46.6% groundball rate.
As Sahadev Sharma reported for The Athletic, the Cubs have Mervis working with Iowa hitting coach — and former Cubs hitting coach — John Mallee on minor mechanical tweaks. My guess based on the data above is that he’s trying to elevate more balls without getting away from what has always been a line-drive mentality. More important is settling into better swing decisions so he’s not getting handcuffed by frequent two-strike counts.
The Cubs figure the best way for Mervis to do that is with everyday at-bats in Iowa, though it’s just as easy to argue he should be getting those in Chicago. That indicates the team still believes winning is more important than development for the time being, though one could easily argue keeping Mervis down is antithetical to that belief. Sharma writes that the Cubs want Mervis to play without added pressure, which I find a little silly for a couple of reasons. Not what he wrote, just why he had to write it.
First, it’s not like Mervis coming up and struggling again would put the Cubs in a worse position than they already are with Trey Mancini and Jared Young there. Not only that, but his ceiling is much higher if he does break through. Second, I’m not sure having someone play sans added pressure is the best way to know what you’ll get from them when the lights get brighter again. There’s obviously a lot of nuance involved and every individual is going to respond differently, so we can’t do much more than trust that the organization knows what’s best even if we disagree.
So it sounds like this will be a situation in which they’re going to keep Mervis in the minors until the deadline, by which point they’ll have finally decided whether or not they’ll be sellers. Even if they don’t end up moving Mancini — which could maybe happen if he gets hot here — and/or Yan Gomes, etc., transitioning away from trying to be competitive means they can give everyday plate appearances to Mervis, Miguel Amaya, and others.
Along those same lines, why the hell is Pete Crow-Armstrong still at Double-A Tennessee? Surely he’ll be promoted at least one level in August.
Under no circumstances will I ever endorse the Cubs selling off yet again in the third year of a rebuild that shouldn’t have been necessary in the first plate, but I do look forward to seeing them prioritize the future in the second half. Even if that means some of the prospects in question don’t seize the opportunity, it at least provides the front office with clearer direction on where to go in the offseason.