Chicago Cubs first baseman Matt Mervis deserves patience amid a slow start

Chicago Cubs v Houston Astros
Chicago Cubs v Houston Astros / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

First baseman Matt Mervis is off to a somewhat slow start to his Chicago Cubs career. Since coming up to face the Marlins at Wrigley Field, he has yet to deliver on the promise he showed in the minor leagues, hitting only .219/.265/.250 before Tuesday night's game, good for a 43 wRC+.

He's faced a bit of a rude awakening in the early going with his excellent 16.1% walk rate and 17% strikeout rate at Triple-A souring to 5.9% and 41.2% respectively. It helped that he mashed his first homer and another hit on Tuesday, but the numbers just aren't in the same realm as fans would hope he'd be early on. With all that context, it's far too early to be concerned or even to call for him to be sent back down to the minors.

One caveat to Mervis's struggles is the quality and variety of pitching he's faced so far. His first few games against Miami saw him face off against some tough pitching, especially from the left side and while he didn't exactly struggle against southpaws in the minors, they were clearly more of a challenge for him as early as last year. Major league pitching is another caliber and to be immediately confronted with not only some of the better arms but ones that play to a hitter's weakness is a tough break to start off. That, of course, doesn't excuse a .632 OPS against righties, but it is worth noting.

The Cubs have to balance development with competing in 2023

To talk about performance this early, however, kind of misses the point of why Mervis is here in the first place. He came to the majors because the minor leagues simply weren't testing him anymore. With a 138 wRC+ and that absurd aforementioned strikeout and walk rates, it was time to face as much MLB pitching as possible in order to determine where he is in his development. 36 at bats isn't a large enough sample to assess yet, especially in the context of his minor-league ascent which itself started with a pretty mediocre first year with the Pelicans (85 wRC+ in 289 plate appearances).

As much as it sucks to hear, the Cubs also aren't solely focused on winning this year. This team still isn't built to make a full-throated playoff push, despite what that hot start would have you believe. In order to set themselves up for 2024 and beyond while also potentially capitalizing on the hot stretches of certain prospects, they have to give guys like Mervis a runway to learn what they can do and develop against major league opponents. That's why David Ross is also trying to give him as many starts as possible while he's here.

Just look to Christopher Morel for how this development has done wonders. He was able to translate last year's struggles down the stretch to a 183 wRC+ at Triple-A and now four bombs in his first seven games back with the Cubs. Even if he gets sent back down, Mervis will take valuable information from his struggles here.

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There's a reason why Mervis was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020. The Cubs didn't expect him to break out in the minors quite like he did and they almost certainly have their own long-term developmental goals for him. Expecting great things immediately isn't the right approach for him or any prospect. Patience is needed as we assess what Mervis can do in his first stint in the majors.