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How Matt Mervis could carve out a long-term role for himself with Cubs

1 year agoAndy Martinez

PITTSBURGH — As the season winds down for the Cubs, David Ross and the front office have kept one eye on 2023 and how the roster could shake out.

One position they’re looking at specifically is first base.

“I think there’s a big hole for me at first base and the production we’re getting out of that,” Ross said Saturday.

The Cubs entered the season with Frank Schwindel penciled in as their Opening Day first baseman. He battled back injuries in spring and early in the season and never got into a rhythm, as he was designated for assignment and granted his release this month.

Alfonso Rivas has played the bulk of the Cubs’ games at first base (83), followed by Schwindel (48), P.J. Higgins (36), Patrick Wisdom (18), David Bote (3) and Jared Young (2).

Rivas has proven to be the Cubs’ best defensive first baseman, but he’s struggled to settle into a groove offensively as he’s shuffled between Chicago and Iowa this season, posting a .239/.318/.316 slash line and an 80 OPS+, 20 points below league average.

Overall, the Cubs haven’t gotten the offensive production, specifically the power, you’d expect from the position, posting a .340 slugging percentage, which ranks 28th in baseball and OPS of .639, which is 25th in MLB. They also have posted an isolated power (ISO) of .106, which is last in baseball. ISO measures raw power, considering just extra base hits a player hits.

So, what’s the solution for the Cubs in 2023? Sure, the solution can come from their active roster and 40-man roster — Rivas is just 25 and playing his first full season in the majors and Wisdom has shown versatility to play there and platoon with Rivas or a left-handed bat.

But the answer could lie just a few hundred miles away in Iowa. Matt Mervis has been posting ridiculous offensive numbers this season, he’s posted a .308/.380/.609 slash line and clobbered 35 home runs across three levels.

“I mean I think he’s definitely put himself on the radar,” Ross said. “He’s having a phenomenal season. Everybody I talk to continues to be impressed with the at-bat.”

While it’s a bit unrealistic to expect him to post a .989 OPS as soon as he reaches the majors, the power and hitting tools he’s shown in the minors since he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020 have been impressive. That’s allowed him to be in the conversation to battle for the position come Spring Training 2023.

“He’s having one of the better minor league seasons for any player there is,” Ross said. “There’s no doubt he’ll have a great opportunity in front of him moving forward unless something transpires in the offseason that would negate that.” 

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