“During the shutdown period between the post draft signing and before instructs, I was able to send [the Cubs developmental staff] video so they could create a plan for me (pre hitting movements just to get my body moving right and drills). So, even when I wasn’t able to to be in person with the coaches, they were able to help me develop.”
— Matt Mervis
A drastically shorted 2020 MLB Draft led to dramatic changes in amateur and professional baseball. Not only were teams hyper focused on a five round draft, but college players grappled with the decision of whether to accept the additional year of eligibility granted to them by the NCAA or to pursue professional baseball. High School players were left with an even greater decision since their scholarship may be taken by a college player who chose to stay for that additional year. An additional wrinkle was that players who weren’t drafted would only be eligible to sign for a max of $20,000 (over $100,000 less than previous years) in a post-draft signing period. Needless to say, the five round 2020 MLB draft limited the player pool who decided to enter professional ball. So it was very surprising that as the start of the post-draft signing period began, the Chicago Cubs landed a bevy of quality prospects, including a slugger from Duke who dabbled with pitching in his college career, in Matt Mervis.
A special thanks to Matt Mervis for joining
In a post-draft landscape with all teams capped at offering more than a $20,000 signing bonus, non-drafted players became true free agents. With money largely out of the equation, players could meet with teams before deciding which organization would provide the best developmental system capable of helping the players reach their highest potential. It turns out the significant investment in the hitting and pitching infrastructure paid big dividends already for the Chicago Cubs. According to Mervis, he had the opportunity to connect with the Cubs’ hitting director. “Talking to Justin Stone a bunch before (both before the draft and after the draft passed) before the free agent signing period [meant a great deal]. I liked a lot of what he had to say, and they had a clear plan for me before I even signed.”
Mervis’s interest with the Cubs’ pitch ran far deeper than the hitting infrastructure. In fact, 2020 Cubs Stan Zielinski Scout of the Year Award winner, Billy Swoope, was instrumental in connecting with Mervis years prior to the draft. “I’ve actually had a pretty decent relationship with the Cubs going back to my high school days. I was playing in a tournament in either Georgia or Florida I can’t remember which. And I hadn’t been invited to East Coast pro yet which I was working hard to get invited to, and the team in my region was filled up and after one of my games down there Billy Swoope (one of the college area scouts) came over to me and said, ‘we want to take you out of your region and have you play for the Midwest region’, which happened to be the Cubs that year,” Mervis said. “So that kind of started my relationship with Billy, which has continued throughout the years. I talked to him throughout college. He was really insistent on ‘we want to get you in a Cubs uniform’, and ‘I really like you’. So he was a big piece of it.”
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Matt Mervis is glad to be in professional baseball, but he’s still able to reflect on the significant impact COVID-19 played on the remainder of his senior season at Duke. While preparing to take on the rival North Carolina Tar Heels, the final call was made to postpone (and ultimately cancel) the season. The fast-paced nature of attempting to mitigate the spread of the pandemic left the players without time to prepare for the reality that their seasons or, even, college careers might be over. “In the middle of batting practice, we just got called off the field and were told to go in the locker room. From there, it was about a three-day decline from ‘We’re hopeful that we can play this weekend’ into ‘Okay, pack your stuff and go home’ to ‘Clear out of campus.’ Obviously, things escalated really quickly” Mervis said. You can read more about the impact of COVID-19 on Matt Mervis, multiple other amateur players, and even amateur baseball, itself, in a piece I published on Cubs Insider.
The fall of 2020 brought a sense of normalcy to minor league baseball players, Mervis included. After months of uncertainty, players were finally able to participate in Instructs (fall instructional league). The experience at Instructs pales in comparison to playing in front of fans from affiliates like Myrtle Beach or South Bend, but it was baseball. Real baseball. Mervis took advantage of the situation putting up a monstrous 1.150 OPS in 20 games, however it was a wake-up call related to his defense that he felt shaped his goals for 2021. “I think just continuing what I was working on it in Instructs. I spent a lot of time with early work with infielders doing stuff and I had a little struggle in the middle of instructional [ball], which was kind of an eye opener to me because I was pretty solid defensively in college,” Mervis said. “I think that was probably the best time for it to happen, not during a regular season, but having that struggle in my first bout of professional baseball was good because I’m not just a hitter. I have to be a complete player player if I want to advance and keep moving up the system.”
“So, continuing to work on defense work on my footwork, work on my hands, work on my rhythm. And then, just continuing my development plan. I think [Justin] Stone and a bunch of the other hitting coaches that were there, gave me a really solid plan that I that I worked on every morning before we went out to the field and warmed up and took that in practice itself. It helped me get into my rhythm for the day to feel where my swing is at. And then just continuing to develop that plan before I go out and hit [before I] master the motions of what makes my swing feel good and what makes what makes it work.”
Fans should be excited to watch a polished college hitter move up the ranks of the minor league affiliates as he works to make himself a complete player. Matt Mervis lost the remainder of his college career, had his draft plans significantly altered, and had to wait to Fall of 2020 to get into a professional game, but he’s ready to make the wait worth it.