Crow-Armstrong, Mervis manifesting longtime goals by climbing via Cubs system

MESA, Ariz. — Like most baseball followers, Pete Crow-Armstrong remembers precisely the place he was when Anthony Rizzo squeezed the ultimate out of the 2016 World Series.

Years earlier than he’d be traded to the Cubs for one of many gamers central in making that historic World Series doable, Crow-Armstrong — then a freshman in highschool in California — watched his dad, a lifelong Cubs fan, have a good time the tip of the 108-year drought like he himself had made the clinching throw to Rizzo. 

“My mom wasn’t in town. It was just us two in the house. And I remember my dad jumping up and down, crying, all that stuff,” Crow-Armstrong recollects. 

On the opposite aspect of the nation, Matt Mervis was a freshman at Duke University. Mervis grew up a Nationals fan within the D.C. suburbs, however even he couldn’t resist supporting the Cubs of their quest to lastly elevate a World Series trophy as soon as once more. 

“It was really cool watching that run,” Mervis says now. 

Though they’ve by no means performed collectively on the identical minor-league workforce — Mervis was promoted to Double-A Tennessee final season, two weeks earlier than Crow-Armstrong was known as as much as high-A — the 2 prospects have developed a powerful friendship as potential centerpieces among the many subsequent wave of Cubs expertise in quest of one other magical World Series second for Chicago. 

They stored up with their respective breakout years over social media. After the season, Crow-Armstrong recruited Mervis to hitch CAA, his company. They appeared at CubsCon in January, and shortly after even bought their very own T-shirt:

As relative newbies to the Cubs group, Crow-Armstrong and Mervis first related a 12 months in the past when Mervis — a primary baseman by commerce — routinely wandered into the outfield (Crow-Armstrong’s most popular area) to assist subject balls throughout bating observe. Despite a four-year age hole and having grown up on totally different sides of the nation, it didn’t take lengthy for them to appreciate they shared an analogous ardour for the sport. Fast-forward a 12 months, and listed here are Lightning (PCA) and Thunder (Mervis), every of their first big-league spring coaching, waiting for a vivid future and the opportunity of being integral elements of the subsequent nice Cubs workforce.

While supervisor David Ross’ presence stays a powerful and invaluable hyperlink to 2016, there is just one participant left from the World Series winners on the Cubs roster (Kyle Hendricks). Still, the legacy of that workforce can be instantly felt for years to come back, due to the infusion of younger expertise enabled by buying and selling away a lot of the membership’s earlier (and iconic) core. As painful as it might have been for followers to show the web page on such a memorable period of Cubs baseball, the overhaul has put the group in place to return to competition earlier than your common rebuilding workforce — notably when supplemented by important free-agent investments in gamers like Dansby Swanson and Jameson Taillon. 

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These younger gamers’ Cubs careers are nonetheless simply getting off the bottom, however early returns are favorable. Six of their prime 13 prospects getting into 2023 had been acquired through commerce, led by Crow-Armstrong, who demonstrated stunning energy (.520 slugging) to associate with Gold Glove-caliber protection in middle subject in his first full-season as a professional.

Whereas Crow-Armstrong has been a prime prospect for years, Mervis serves as the final word reminder of how laborious it’s to foretell the place that subsequent breakout participant may come from. Last spring coaching, Mervis was in minor-league camp preparing to return to high-A after posting a .677 OPS in 2021. In 2022, he hit 36 homers throughout three ranges, tied for third amongst all MiLB hitters — and one of many two hitters to launch extra was a fellow Cubs prospect, outfielder Alexander Canario. Beyond the boatload of dingers, Mervis remarkably improved his strikeout and stroll charges as he climbed the minor-league ladder, ending in Triple-A earlier than a .914 OPS encore within the Arizona Fall League for good measure.

Now, the 24-year-old Mervis is on the cusp of the large leagues. It is these sorts of improvement tales that may drastically alter the trajectories of a workforce in a rush. For Mervis and Crow-Armstrong, each of whom have every established themselves as legitimately invaluable prospects throughout the business, pursuing their big-league goals with the Cubs specifically carries extra weight. 

Crow-Armstrong was raised on the Cubs. His father, Matthew John Armstrong, grew up in Naperville and made clear to his son at an early age that he’d higher comply with go well with. 

“He was like, look, they’re about to start getting pretty good,” Crow-Armstrong recalled. “You have to jump on the bandwagon now, or I’m not letting you on later.” 

By the time he was a prime novice prospect on the baseball manufacturing facility referred to as Harvard-Westlake in Santa Monica, the thought of truly enjoying for the Cubs in the future had already began to kind. The Cubs held the sixteenth choose within the 2020 Draft, and Crow-Armstrong was projected to listen to his identify known as someplace in the course of the primary spherical. Instead, they took a highschool shortstop named Ed Howard. 

“I wanted to get drafted by the Cubs, but I was happy for them because I knew Ed from summer ball and I was excited for him,” PCA mentioned. 

Three picks later, the Mets known as his identify at No. 19. Fourteen months later, the Mets, in a playoff push, traded Crow-Armstrong to the Cubs for Javier Báez. Over the span of 48 hours, Báez, Rizzo and Kris Bryant had been shipped off to new groups, their iconic Cubs tenures immediately within the rearview mirror. 

On the flip aspect, a delayed dream grew to become a actuality.

“I’ve always wanted to be a Cub deep down,” Crow-Armstrong defined. “When I used to be with the Mets, I needed to be a Met. But as soon as I bought right here, I used to be like, ‘Alright, now I got some different work to do, which was cool.”

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Mervis may not have Cubs roots dating back to childhood like Crow-Armstrong, but his connection to the organization also runs deeper than just his time as a pro. As the top-rated high school player in the state of Maryland, Mervis competed in several summer showcases entering his senior year, including East Coast Pro. ECP features many of the best prep players in the country broken up into teams by region. Each team is managed by an MLB scout, and Mervis’ Mid-Atlantic squad simply so occurred to be the Cubs, managed by a Cubs scout. This is why there are images of Mervis sporting a reproduction Cubs jersey lengthy earlier than he was sporting the actual factor in MLB spring coaching. 

Mervis had additionally related with Cubs scout Billy Swoope throughout highschool and stayed in contact as his collegiate profession at Duke progressed. Undrafted following his junior 12 months in 2019, Mervis went to the distinguished Cape Cod League and excelled for the Cotuit Kettleers, who had been managed by legendary school coach Mike Roberts. Roberts was additionally a roving minor-league teacher for the Cubs on the time, and had a powerful relationship with Swoope, who stored Mervis firmly on the Cubs’ radar heading into 2020. 

After a powerful begin to his senior spring earlier than the pandemic shut the season down, Mervis once more related with the Cubs in a pre-draft Zoom name with Justin Stone, the workforce’s director of hitting. Stone laid out a transparent plan for his improvement ought to he find yourself within the Cubs group. But with the 2020 draft shortened to simply 5 rounds and 160 whole picks, Mervis went unselected once more. 

In the times following, greater than a dozen MLB groups supplied to signal him as an undrafted free agent. But the connections Mervis had made with a number of members of the Cubs group over time made them the perfect entry level for his transition into professional ball. Two weeks after the draft, Mervis signed. 

Though he wasn’t raised on the workforce like Crow-Armstrong, Mervis additionally all the time cherished watching the Cubs when he was youthful. 

“Pete and I have talked about some of our favorite Cubs from growing up,” Mervis mentioned. “Even when the teams weren’t great I would play with the Cubs in video games. Aramis Ramírez hit bombs. Derrek Lee hit bombs.”

“Alfonso Soriano!” Crow-Armstrong chimed in.

“Carlos Zambrano,” Mervis added. “I would make sure he was in the lineup, so I could hit bombs with him. He’d hit fourth.” 

It’s clear Mervis’ affinity for the lengthy ball stretches again lengthy earlier than he was launching his personal homers in a Cubs uniform. 

This affection for the Cubs of yesteryear now interprets to Mervis’ and Crow-Armstrong’s admiration for his or her teammates. While it’s simple to hype up their fellow prime prospects like Owen Caissie or Brennen Davis, every additionally supplied effusive reward of lesser-known guys like former 18th-round choose Jake Slaughter. Slaughter grabbed their consideration in a giant manner final 12 months as considered one of simply 12 minor-leaguers with not less than 20 homers and 30 steals in 2022.

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“Everybody would be like, ‘watch [Slaughter] get hot’. He gets hot and it’s like he’s the best player you’ve ever seen in your life,” Crow-Armstrong. mentioned. 

“But he got hot for three months,” Mervis added. “At that point, you’re just good.”

Slaughter is considered one of a number of lower-profile hitters, together with Luis Verdugo, BJ Murray, Jared Young, Yonathan Perlaza, Darius Hill and Levi Jordan (amongst many others) who you gained’t discover on MLB Pipeline’s “Top 30” Cubs prospect record, however every of whom have made sturdy impressions on Mervis and Crow-Armstrong as teammates. 

“There are so many guys that fly under the radar,” Mervis mentioned. “Because there’s so much talent in the organization.”

After soaking in his first month of big-league camp studying from veterans Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini, Mervis not too long ago left for Miami the place he is representing Team Israel within the loaded Pool D of the World Baseball Classic. Crow-Armstrong stays in Mesa the place he’s been producing spotlight performs in middle simply weeks earlier than his twenty first birthday.

With the final word carrot of calling Wrigley Field house, gamers at each degree are intensely pushed to actualize their abilities and assist make the Cubs a National League powerhouse as soon as once more. 

“Everybody’s motivated,” Crow-Armstrong mentioned. “Everybody here has brought their own confidence, brought whoever they are as a person and as a baseball player to this organization. I think this organization has done a good job of instilling another set of confidence because of the faith that they show in us.”

Last 12 months, Mervis and Crow-Armstrong had been half of a giant contingent of Cubs prospects invited to the ultimate house collection of the common season to get conversant in the Friendly Confines following the conclusion of their respective minor-league seasons. 

“It’s easy to go to those games at Wrigley and be like ‘I want to f—— play here’,” Crow-Armstrong mentioned. 

Having completed 2022 at Triple-A, Mervis could also be nearer to having his personal locker at Wrigley Field. But Crow-Armstrong isn’t far behind and is set to hitch his buddy within the majors sooner quite than later.

“Getting to the big leagues with the Cubs,” PCA mentioned, “that’s gonna be something really cool.”

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball author for FOX Sports. He has coated baseball for his complete grownup life, most notably for, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan dwelling within the Eastern Time Zone, which suggests he loves an excellent 10 p.m. first pitch. You can comply with him on Twitter @j_shusterman_. 

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