March 29, 2016 at 10:00 AM
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Last season, Michael Chavis held his own for a 19-year-old thrown into full-season ball less than a year after graduating high school. But for a first round pick of the Boston Red Sox, expectations are always high and some viewed his first full season as a disappointment. However, he made adjustments throughout the season that manifested in an improved second half, then learning from his first season, some key changes to his offseason approach.
Chavis got off to a great start in his first couple weeks of 2015, going 2 for 4 with a home run in his first game of the season, and adding two more home runs in his next eight games. However, things went downhill for the next two-plus months, and the hot start may have been more of a curse than a blessing
“When I first got [to Greenville], it started pretty well, but after that, I tried to recreate that kind of night where I tried to destroy the ball every night, and that’s where it kind of got away from me,” he explained. “I feel it was a little bit different [than past baseball experiences] because everybody was older than me. But I don’t think I was overwhelmed in any sense. I think towards the second half, I rose to the occasion.”
As a 19-year-old, he was about two years younger than the average player in the South Atlantic League last year, so a transition period was not unexpected. After a strong showing last spring and a quick start to the season though, his.187/.253/.304 line from April 28 to July 4 came as a surprise. But something clicked for the third baseman in July, and he batted .250/.292/.476 with 10 home runs in his final 49 games of the season.
“I started sticking to my approach. In the beginning of the season, I got away from myself, I started trying to pull the ball too much,” he said. “That Green Monster out there [at Greenville’s Fluor Field] starts getting in your head. It was the first time playing in front of fans and stuff like that. So it was really different, and in the second half, around July, I found an approach where I just focused on trying to barrel up the ball, not trying to do too much, and just have fun with the game. I mean it’s a game, and it’s a blessing to play it every single day.”
Chavis’ strikeout rate was very high for the season, but there was a significant drop in his K% after July 4, going from 35% to 27%. Director of Scouting Ian Cundall took in a few of Chavis’ games in mid-July and commented that he was the most impressive of a prestigious group of prospects in batting practice. However, Chavis was using a similar swing in games, which explains the strikeout issues as he was not shortening up often enough. Cundall appears to have caught Chavis during this transition period though, as he talked about the third baseman beginning to show signs of becoming more compact with two strikes.
In saying that Chavis was the most impressive of all the hitters on the Greenville team, Cundall was paying him quite a compliment considering the star-studded lineup, which included Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Javier Guerra, and Nick Longhi. Chavis showed off plus bat speed and raw power, so although some of those prospects had better luck translating it into game action, there is strong potential with the bat if he can continue to refine his in-game approach.
Spending the season around some of the best young prospects in the world was a valuable experience for Chavis.
“That team was obviously incredibly special,” Chavis said. “I mean everybody was raving throughout the season. Everywhere we went, we had fans screaming our names. So it was an incredible experience to be a part of that. And I’m really looking forward to continuing this journey with these guys. It’s a great group of guys—not only are they all talented, but they’re really good guys on and off the field.”
One side effect of having such prospect star power though was the need to rotate players in the infield. Specifically, Chavis and Devers shared playing time at third base. Chavis played 68 of his 109 games at third base, with the rest coming as a designated hitter, with the exception of one at shortstop. In a close to even split, Devers ended up with 72 games at the hot corner. While this could have been viewed as a hindrance to his development, Chavis looked at it a different way.
“It was pretty nice in a way to get to do that because Devers is obviously an incredible player,” the Georgia native said. “So he and I got to talk back and forth and we get to see how each other work. We can make each other better. We’re obviously both two competitive players, and we’re both fairly talented so it’s almost like you have that inner competition, but you know the other guy is pulling for you too. So it’s really nice to have him by my side and on my team.”
While the potential appears to be there offensively, the jury is still out on his defense at third base. His footwork and accuracy with throws across the diamond have been called into question by scouts. Some of this can be tied back to the fact that he was a shortstop in high school, and had only a few reps at third in summer leagues prior to playing 10 games there in the GCL in 2014. He has now played just 78 professional games at the position. Despite some major leaguers being able to make that transition look seamless, it is not as simple as just sliding over a few feet.
“I thought it was going to be a lot easier, but it’s completely different because at shortstop, you get a lot more balls where you get to play the ball. At third base, the read’s different, so you more so just have to react,” he said. “So a lot of learning to play third base is repetition and getting those live at-bats where you get to see how the ball’s going to come off the bat. So it’s not me getting to play the ball, it’s the ball kind of comes to me and I have to react to how it bounces, how to play it—come get it or stay back on it.”
In addition to perfecting his technique at the position, Chavis made a key change to his offseason preparation this year after experiencing the rigors of a full season that he is expecting to improve his mobility in the field.
“This offseason, I took a different approach than I did last year where I tried to get back to being more athletic. So I lost 18 pounds and was doing two-a-day workouts,” he said. “I talked to a nutritionist and I figured out how to eat healthy. That’s something I never really did. You know, in high school, you eat Chick-Fil-A or whatever’s there, you’re doing so much that it doesn’t really matter. Last offseason, I kind of just did that same approach [as high school], and I gained weight and I felt like I kind of got slow. This offseason, I worked on speed and agility and becoming more of an athlete. Like I said, I lost 18 pounds and I feel 10 times better on and off the field.”
While eating healthy might seem like an obvious move, it can be forgotten how young prospects drafted straight out of high school actually are. While adjusting to professional life, these teenagers are usually also adjusting to making life decisions for the first time on their own. Eating healthy was part of that transition for Chavis, and it’s been paying dividends in the field so far from his perspective.
“I’m more mobile and agility. I can get lower and I can get better reads off the ball,” he said. “I’m working every day with early work and stuff like that with [minor league infield coordinator Andy Fox] and guys around the clubhouse. So I’m working as hard as I can to get comfortable at third base and I think I’ve come a long way so my comfortability is definitely much higher than it was last season and the season before.”
While our scouts still saw some room for improvement on defense, including a few off-target throws, the scouting team viewed the first few days of minor league games, so some inconsistency is understandable. He admitted he sometimes still feels like a shortstop playing third base, but this spring that has begun to change.
“[Defense] is obviously something I’ll always work on until I get kicked out of the game,” he said. “But we’re really focusing on making me become an actual third baseman. Right now, I’m still kind of in-between where I’m getting more comfortable. I just want to become very comfortable there one day [so that] every play, I have the same approach.”
The reports we hear early this season on his defense will be telling as to whether the transition is finally starting to take hold, or whether other positions may need to be considered as an option. For now, though, the toolsy third baseman is likely headed back to Greenville to begin the year, where he will look to solidify his second-half gains from last year and prove he is ready to move a rung up the ladder.
Photo credit: Michael Chavis by Kelly O'Connor
Matt Huegel is managing editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegel.