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Cubs fans can be forgiven for being impatient to see Matt Mervis at Wrigley Field. It is very hard to ignore the numbers he put up in the minors in 2022, and the way he has continued to hit in Iowa this season.
It is also hard to ignore the fact that current Cubs first basemen have not produced much at the plate. Through their first 22 games, they combined for a .233 average, which ranked 26th in the league, and they combined for just three home runs. That group’s -0.6 fWAR is the second lowest in baseball.
Meanwhile, Mervis slashed .309/.379/.606 with 36 home runs and 119 RBI across three levels of the Cubs farm system last year, and through his first 19 games in Iowa this season, he has only continued to rake, adding on 5 home runs to his minor league total.
As he has done this, the Cubs have been mostly successful, sitting at 13-10 after a 5-3 loss to the Padres Wednesday night. They still hold the highest run differential (+43) in the National League and the third-best team OPS in baseball. They have mostly had production from all spots in the lineup, but again, with Mervis crushing balls in Triple-A right now and the first basemen in the majors seemingly not producing all that well, this would seem like the time to bring Mervis up to the big leagues.
But Trey Mancini would like a word.
His first two weeks of the season were bad, there’s no question. After a week of games, he was batting .182, and it took until April 11 for him to get an extra-base hit of any kind. He connected for a home run in that game, but then went on a seven-game stretch without any other extra-base hits that also dropped his batting average from .275 to .196. Cubs manager David Ross gave him a few days off to clear his head at that point, and that may have done the trick.
Since taking a break for a couple of games, Mancini is batting .333 with a .625 slugging percentage. When the Cubs trailed 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth Wednesday, he launched a two-run shot to left field that went 400 feet and left his bat at over 109 miles per hour.
“Give him a couple of days off, give him a little bit of a breather down at the bottom of the lineup, then put him right back where he belongs. Looks really good and has for a couple games now,” Ross said.
Mancini has experienced slow starts before and knows enough not to be rattled by them, but there is the reality of added pressure that comes from being on a new team.
“You’re at a new place, new fans, and you want everybody to know what you can do and like you. There’s a little bit of that,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve started like this a lot of times in my career. It was tough, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time you realize you’re only 20 games in.”
One of the things Mancini said he has been working on is how he gauges the success of his at-bats. The desire to produce can cause any hitter to start chasing pitches out of the zone and to stray from their plan at the plate. For Mancini, he said he zeroed in on that and has worked to stay focused on measuring himself by the quality of his plate appearances rather than just by the outcomes.
“Judging the success of the at-bat on how well I committed to the plan and stayed with it rather than just the end result,” he said.
Through the admittedly small sample size of about a week’s worth of games, it would appear that Mancini is trending in the right direction. And that complicates things for Cubs fans clamoring to see Mervis entrenched in the lineup and at first base. It’s tempting to think that he will single handedly provide the necessary firepower to keep the Cubs from losing games like Wednesday’s.
This is not to ignore that if a change were to be made, it is Eric Hosmer, not Trey Mancini, who would have to move out of the way. Hosmer is batting .230 with one home run and his strikeout rate (21.2%) is higher than it’s been since 2019.
The Cubs brass has not given any official word on their plans for Mervis, but them signing multiple free agents who are primarily first basemen or who can handle first if needed (Mancini, Hosmer, Edwin Rios, and even Cody Bellinger), should be a signal that they are not going to be in a rush to bring Mervis to Wrigley. He also does not have a significant amount of minor league experience – less than two seasons’ worth of games – and if the Cubs were merely looking to preserve his service time, Mervis would be in Chicago already.
Mancini has been a benefit to the Cubs, even when he wasn’t hitting all that well. He roved around defensively while Seiya Suzuki was recovering from injury, and now that Mancini has been playing at first base more consistently, it appears that he might be getting it together at the plate. There might be enough offensive production coming from Mancini to keep things as is for now.
Because of that, there’s no reason to bring Mervis into the first base equation just yet.
“I like where Trey’s at, he worked really hard. He looks like he’s in a really good space,” Ross said.
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