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July 28, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Michael Chavis

After two inconsistent and injury-plagued seasons, third baseman Michael Chavis has finally shown the talent that led the Red Sox to select him in the first round of the 2014 draft. After struggling in his first full season and losing last year to a pair of injuries—a left thumb injury that put him on the DL for six weeks and a broken finger that he tried to play through for three months before finally disclosing it to the team—he has had a breakout campaign at the plate, putting him into consideration for (and, in the case of Baseball America, onto) midseason Top 100 Prospect lists.

In 59 games with Salem, Chavis hit .318/.388/.641 with 17 home runs in 250 plate appearances. Since his promotion to Portland on June 22, Chavis has hit .281/.323/.526 with seven home runs in 124 plate appearances. While Chavis has raised his stock both within the Red Sox system and nationally, he still has areas of his game he really needs to work on in order to reach his full potential.

Chavis doesn’t have a build you’d expect for someone with his profile. He has a short, stocky frame and is listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. Chavis has a well-developed lower half and strong upper body with minimal remaining projection. He looks to be in better shape this year than in the past and seems more agile as a result, but he is still only a fringe-average runner at best.

At the plate, Chavis has made significant progress at the plate—now that he is healthy—that has allowed him to tap into his plus raw power. Chavis starts vertical with an open stance and his hands high. He utilizes a short leg kick, bringing his foot up and down quickly. Chavis has quick hands and plus bat speed. He has natural loft in his swing and finishes high with a one-hand follow through. Chavis’ approach is still developing, and he is aggressive early in the count, hunting fastballs and looking to pull the ball. Every hard hit ball I’ve seen from Chavis this year has been to the pull side, and in one game scouted he swung at the first pitch in all four plate appearances.

Chavis has cut down his strikeout rate a tick from past years (19.8% in 2017 vs. 23.9% in 2016 and 30.6% in 2015). The downtick in strikeout rate this year is largely driven by a 14.3% strikeout rate in Double-A though, which I don’t expect will be sustainable for him. Chavis will always have a fair amount of swing-and-miss in his game as a result of his aggressive approach and propensity to hone in on fastballs, which leaves him vulnerable to breaking balls. Chavis’ pitch recognition has improved this year, and in recent games scouted he showed the ability to recognize below-average breaking balls early. In the video below, Chavis picks up an 0-2 curveball early and does a good job keeping his hands and weight back before driving the ball to left field for a double. 
Chavis doesn’t have a prototypical power hitter’s build, but has natural loft in his swing and the strength and bat speed to drive the ball, primarily to the pull side. Chavis has power to all fields, but that hasn’t translated in games yet—20 of his 23 home runs, along with 20 of his 23 doubles, are to the pull side. Chavis likes the ball middle-in and as he moves up the ladder, pitchers will look to exploit this by giving him a heavy diet of pitches away. 

The weakest part of Chavis’s game is his defense. He has only played 46 games in the field this year (with another 44 at DH) as a result of elbow soreness that put him on the DL for most of the season’s first two weeks, then limited him to DH duty until early May. He did not play back-to-back days in the field until May 26 and 27. Chavis has an above-average arm, capable of making all the throws from third base, but his fundamentals and footwork need improvement. He has only average range and seems to be much more comfortable fielding the ball on his backhand so that he can transition straight into his throw. This tendency can lead to sloppy errors, however, on balls he could easily have fielded in front. In a recent game in which I saw him make one such error, Chavis also chose on another play to make a difficult throw to first with runners on first and second and two outs when he could have easily just stepped on third base to end the inning. His throw to first was poor and in the dirt because he didn’t set his feet, but the first baseman bailed him out. The play, while going into the books as an out, showed a lack of situational awareness, and mistakes like that will be magnified as he progresses up the system and the stage gets bigger. Long-term, Chavis’ chances to stay at third base are still questionable. In the best case, he will develop into a fringe-average defender at third, but he also could be forced to move off the position either the corner outfield or perhaps second base. Unfortunately for Chavis, he doesn’t profile at first base due to his height. 

Perhaps an afterthought entering the year, Chavis has now established himself as one of the top prospects in the system (preview: he will move up to number three in the SoxProspects.com Rankings next week, assuming he is still around…). He has some holes in his game, but is still only 21 years old and has time to work on those areas. With continued improvement, he could be an average regular with more power than hit with passable defense at third base. With the defensive questions and the amount of swing-and-miss in his game, Chavis is still a relatively high-risk prospect even though he is already in Double-A. With Rafael Devers looking like the long-term solution at third base for the Red Sox, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Chavis’ name floated in trade talks at the trade deadline and over the offseason, as players who play positions already accounted for on the major league roster have been an archetype typically used in trades by Dave Dombrowski. 

Photo credit: Michael Chavis by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.