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Matt Mervis: Champ or Chump for Fantasy Baseball?

Matt Mervis - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

Finally! A big league team called up a prospect who isn't a pitcher! The Chicago Cubs have summoned Matt Mervis to play first base and hopefully spare them from starting both Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini. Fantasy managers searching for offensive upside are likely checking him out.

To be fair, Mervis doesn't check many of the boxes associated with top prospects. He went undrafted in the shortened 2020 amateur draft, and you won't find his name on any of the top 100 prospect lists. At age 25, he's also a little long in the tooth for a guy making his big-league debut.

That said, Mervis hits the ball hard with a strong batted ball profile. He also has better plate discipline than you might expect from a player like him. Without further ado, let's take a fantasy-focused look at Mervis's 2023 prospects.

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The 2022 Season That Put Matt Mervis On The Map

Technically, Mervis reached the High Minors in 2021 with 15 PAs for Triple-A (Iowa), but that's way too small a sample to do anything with. So, let's look at what he did in the minors last season.

Mervis made three MiLB stops in 2022, hitting .309/.379/.606 with 36 HR and 40 doubles over 578 PAs if you add them together. He led all of MiLB in extra-base hits (78), total bases (310), and RBI (119) as well. As impressive as that is, Mervis did most of his damage against more advanced competition.

His year began at High-A (South Bend) where he hit seven long balls in 108 PAs. The 24-year-old was old for the level, and the Cubs quickly decided to challenge him with a promotion to Double-A (Tennessee).

Mervis came into his own at Tennessee, slashing .300/.370/.596 with 14 HR in 230 PAs. He was outstanding at elevating the baseball with a 48.8 FB% and made his flies count with a 17.9% HR/FB. He also flashed solid plate skills, posting a 20 K% and 8.7 BB% backed by a 12.1 SwStr%. Throw in a .322 BABIP and it's easy to see why his line looked so good.

The Cubs promoted Mervis to Triple-A (Iowa) and he did more of the same, slashing .297/.383/.593 with 15 HR in 240 PAs. His 42.8 FB% was a little lower than his Double-A mark, but his 20.3% HR/FB made up for it. Mervis also cut his SwStr% to 8.7%, leading to much-improved plate discipline (10.4 BB%, 14.6 K%).

His .294 BABIP was likely more indicative of what we can expect from his flyball-heavy profile, but fantasy managers will make that trade for more power every time. Many assumed that Mervis would make the Cubs' Opening Day roster, leading to widespread bewilderment when they signed Hosmer to block him. Sure, he was old and MiLB is a hitter's paradise, but don't you have to see what you have?


How Was Matt Mervis Not A Top Prospect?

Mervis's journey to prospectdom was unorthodox, largely due to events outside of his control. He played baseball at Duke University as a two-way player, focusing primarily on pitching in his first two years before shifting to offense the next two years. As such, talent evaluators didn't have as much information on Mervis as they had on other members of his draft class.

That would've been fine in a normal year, but Mervis was draft-eligible in 2020: a draft limited to just five rounds by the COVID-19 pandemic. No team wanted to waste a precious pick on a relative unknown, so Mervis went undrafted. He received multiple offers as an amateur free agent, however, so he was on the radar. He ultimately signed with the Cubs for a maximum permissible bonus of $20,000.

Mervis only hit .208 with nine homers in his first MiLB season, and scouts had questions about his viability as an MLB regular. FanGraphs gave him a 40-grade hit tool and 50-grade power with no projected growth along with underwhelming 30-grade speed and 40-grade fielding. He was ranked 50th in the Cubs organization as a result, though he was acknowledged as a low-risk prospect.

MLB Pipeline's scouting report is friendlier, seeing 50-grade hit and 60-grade power to make up for below-average fielding and running. The write-up notes that Mervis possesses "the best combo of power and contact in the organization" with a "relatively compact left-handed swing (that) enables him to make consistent hard contact." MLB.com ranked Mervis sixth in the organization but excluded him from their top 100.

Prospect hounds frequently overrate tools and position while underrating the ability to produce on the diamond for fantasy purposes, and that's what may be happening with Mervis. His 2022 season suggests significant fantasy upside, and we don't care that much about his glove or baserunning abilities if he hits.


Matt Mervis: More Of The Same In 2023

Mervis opened the 2023 campaign in Iowa and hit .286/.402/.560 with six homers in 112 PAs. His .294 BABIP matched his Triple-A work the previous year exactly, while his 42.5 FB% and 19.4 HR/FB were within a single percentage point. His 10.3 SwStr% was a little higher, but that's easy to excuse when your 16.1 BB% nearly equals your 17 K%.

Mervis has hit seventh in each of his big league games to date, a lineup role that offers no immediate fantasy value. The Cubs have changed their lineup frequently this season, so Mervis may be able to hit himself into a better role should he deserve it.

Projection systems are mixed on Mervis. ZiPS sees a solid bat projected for a .253/.311/.445 line with 14 HR in 379 PAs, and Steamer largely agrees with a projection of .252/.325/.446 with 16 homers in 391 PAs. However, THE BAT projects a .243/.304/.412 line with 13 HR in 416 PAs, and ATC projects .240/.298/.416 with 15 HR in 420 PAs.


The Verdict On Matt Mervis

Mervis offers much more upside than projection systems expect because they have relatively little data on him and he was old for most of his MiLB stops. Currently rostered in 47% of Yahoo! leagues, Mervis is a Champ for any fantasy manager looking for CI or Util help even if he doesn't fit the traditional prospect mold.

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