Welcome back to the Cubs Beat newsletter. Jordan Bastian has covered baseball for MLB.com since 2005, including the Cubs since the 2019 season.
Dustin Kelly, the Cubs’ new Major League hitting coach, spent the past two years as the organization’s Minor League hitting coordinator. In a recent Zoom chat, Kelly was asked which individual success stories down on the farm in 2022 jump to the front of his mind as great examples of the Cubs’ development goals for their prospects.
“I mean, we could probably go on and on with a bunch of these guys that had some great years,” Kelly said.
True, but Kelly allowed himself to name three players off the top of his head that stood out: Matt Mervis, Pete Crow-Armstrong and Jake Slaughter.
Mervis: After a tough showing (.677 OPS in 73 games, mostly at Single-A Myrtle Beach) in 2021, Mervis enjoyed a breakout performance in ’22. The Cubs' No. 21-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline hit .309/.379/.605 with 36 homers, 40 doubles and 119 RBIs as he climbed through High-A South Bend, Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Then, Mervis added six homers and posted a .912 OPS in the Arizona Fall League.
Kelly said a key for Mervis was worrying less about mechanics and focusing more on pitch selection. That helped the first baseman steadily move up the ladder, while improving his strikeout and walk rates at each level. Now, it looks like Mervis will have a chance to at least compete for the MLB first-base job in Spring Training.
Said Kelly: “The season that he put up this year was, I mean, I don't want to say it was a surprise to us, because we knew that he was a really good hitter, hit the ball hard and hit it often. But numbers that he put up were really, really impressive. And now it’s just about, when he gets his opportunity, which he's going to, that he continues to do what he's done at the Minor League level.”
Crow-Armstrong: Kelly knew he wasn’t going out on a limb by naming Crow-Armstrong -- the Cubs’ No. 1-ranked prospect -- but the all-around performance was still stunning. After missing nearly all of 2021 due to injury, the 20-year-old center fielder hit .312/.376/.520 with 16 homers, 20 doubles, 10 triples, 32 steals, 61 RBIs and 89 runs scored in 101 games between Single-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend.
Said Kelly: “Pete Crow-Armstrong, I think offensively just blew us out of the water with what he's able to do with the bat. Obviously, we knew defensively, the speed, and all of those tools were there. But for him to put up the power numbers and do what he did offensively was really impressive.”
Slaughter: The Cubs picked Slaughter, 26, in the 18th round of the 2018 Draft and he is in a pool of players eligible for selection in next month’s Rule 5 Draft. After posting a .626 OPS in 102 games between High-A and Double-A in ’21, Slaughter hit .284/.381/.514 at the same two levels (106 games) in ’22. Overall, he compiled 23 homers, 21 doubles, 36 steals, 75 runs and 80 RBIs while mostly playing third base.
Said Kelly: “What he did … not making a team out of Spring Training and grinding in extended spring training -- which is, for people that don't know what it is, it's one of the tougher environments to work out of -- and to his credit, he grinded through it. He made some great adjustments with his swing in the offseason and continued it into Spring Training, and we just didn't have enough time to really see him for him to make a team. But once he got out there, there was no stopping him.”