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August 28, 2020 at 1:39 PM

2014 Draft Retrospective: Chavis and Kopech not yet quite in focus

Thank you for checking in on the newest entry in our draft retrospective series. Tuesday was a pick-by-pick rundown of 2014, while today we will dig a little deeper into a few of the more interesting and prominent draftees. For a quick list and links to player pages, check out our Draft History page.

2014 Draft

After an unexpected 97-win, World Series Championship 2013 season that was helped by a bunch of veteran free agent signings that all seemed to work out perfectly, the Sox fell right back to where they were after the 2012 season in 2014: last place. They started out the year by hovering right around .500 for the first month and a half, but a demoralizing 10-game losing streak that ended about two weeks before the draft sunk them from 20-19 to 20-29. The magic of 2013 had clearly worn off, and the 2014 draft was looking more and more important, as it appeared that veterans like Jon Lester, John Lackey, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, and Stephen Drew were not going to be a part of the next great Red Sox team.

The Vitals
General Manager: Ben Cherington
Scouting Director: Amiel Sawdaye

Major Leaguers drafted and signed 

Michael Chavis (1st round, 0.2 bWAR)
Jalen Beeks (12th round, 0.2 bWAR)
Michael Kopech (1st round, 0.1 bWAR)
Chandler Shepherd (13th round, -0.1 bWAR)
Sam Travis (2nd round, -1.3 bWAR)

Unsigned players who reached the major leagues
David Peterson (28th round, 0.7 bWAR)

Compensation Considerations
Received supplemental first-round pick for loss of free agent Jacoby Ellsbury

Book still out?
This draft seems to be the first one of this series for which it's still not entirely clear how good it was. While continued quality play from players like Brandon Workman (2010 draft), Ty Buttrey (2012), or Mauricio Dubon (2013) may shift the specific WAR tabulations, the overall view of those drafts isn't going to change. The 2014 edition is the first in which how you'd grade that year's process is still open, as guys like Michael Chavis (pictured, above) and Michael Kopech have still yet to either firmly establish themselves in the majors or fail to do so. The top two picks of this draft are both in interesting spots late in 2020, and how their careers progress from here will greatly shape the views on how this draft is perceived down the line.

Kopech has not thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2018 after recovering from Tommy John surgery in September of that year, the latest bump in a road so far full of them, although he is still just 24 years old and has the stuff to turn into a star. After being drafted, he made eight short starts in the Gulf Coast League, striking out an impressive 16 hitters in 13 2/3 innings, but also walking 9. Work began then to clean up his mechanics, a clear development point for him when he signed, and hopefully, his command and control as a result. He appeared to have made tremendous strides on that front in his full-season debut in 2015 with the Greenville Drive, striking out 70 and walking just 27 in 65 innings over 16 appearances, but his season ended in July due to a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance.

He did himself no favors in his return the following spring training, showing a lack of maturity that came to a head when he broke his pitching hand in a fight with his roommate, which essentially cost him the first three months of the season. When he finally returned with the Salem Red Sox, he showed more tantalizing tastes of his talent, striking out 82 in just 52 innings over 11 starts, although his 29 walks raised the specter of his previous control issues. His velocity, already a strength, somehow improved, punctuated by a pitch he threw in a mid-July game that clocked in at 105 mph on two different radar guns. After punctuating the season with 26 more whiffs in 22 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League, he had made himself a consensus top-40 prospect in the game, a clearly desirable trade target for the Pale Hose.

Kopech's prospect star only rose higher with Chicago, as two fully healthy seasons put him among the game's elite pitching prospects. He struck out 172 hitters in 134 1/3 innings in 2017, mostly in Double-A with a three-start taste of Triple-A, then punched out 170 hitters in 126 1/3 Triple-A innings in 2018 to earn his first big-league call-up. Two of his first three starts were shortened by rain, but 9 K's and 1 walk in 11 innings, during which he gave up just one run seemed to show he was ready for The Show. But a disastrous September 5 outing saw him allow four home runs and 7 runs total in 3 1/3 innings, and even worse, led to his going under the knife for Tommy John surgery.

Finally healthy and looking like he would be ready to contribute to the White Sox this season, he opted out of the 2020 season amid various reports that his decision had more to do with off-field issues and concerns about how he might be used coming off of his surgery rehab than the COVID-19 pandemic. He should be fully healthy next season, but having now missed two entire seasons, it remains to be seen where his stuff will be at that point.

Chavis has gone through a lot of obstacles just to reach the big leagues, and it is still tough to see what kind of player he will be moving forward, as 2020 hasn’t provided answers yet. After a blistering start in 2019, Chavis struggled down the stretch and was eventually sidelined with a shoulder injury. That injury bug is not something Chavis is unfamiliar with, as it popped up throughout his minor league career. After struggling in his first full season in 2015, his only year in the system in which he played a full season, in 2016, he missed time with a thumb injury, then played through a broken finger suffered almost immediately after his return that he did not initially tell the team about. All of that led to poor numbers, as he hit just .237/.313/.372 in 81 games. He suffered an elbow injury that delayed the start of his 2017 season and kept him from playing in the field at all in April, and more than sporadically in May, but he did break out at the plate with a 31-home run campaign. Still just 21, Chavis had a monster first half, hitting .318/.388/.641 while playing in the pitcher-friendly environs of Salem. He followed with a .250/.310/.492 line after his promotion to Double-A Portland, SoxProspects.com Breakout Player of the Year honors, and spots in both the Baseball America and MLB.com Top 100 prospect lists.

More issues arose in 2018, as Chavis was a non-roster invitee to big league camp in 2018 but suffered an oblique injury in camp before being suspended 80 games in for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. After coming back, he raked, posting a .919 OPS in 46 games between Lowell, Portland, and Pawtucket. He was then set to play in the Arizona Fall League, but could not play due to yet another injury, this to his wrist.

As it stands right now, Chavis, who turned 25 a couple weeks ago, is still an unknown. He has gotten just 66 plate appearances in 2020, mostly from a strict left-right platoon at first base with Mitch Moreland. The inconsistent at-bats make it tough to tell what kind of player Chavis is and if he will eventually be a big league regular. The numbers haven’t been promising so far, as he has just a .676 OPS with 28 strikeouts to just three walks, with the book on his weakness on fastballs up in the zone well known. Adding to the complications is the fact that Chavis's position is still an open question. He played third base almost exclusively in the minors, but never developed to a point where he was seen as a viable everyday player at the hot corner. He spent time at second base in his rookie campaign, flashing some raw tools but having the troubles one might expect of a player doing on-the-job training. Despite showing those flashes, he apparently did not impress enough for Boston to try using him at the keystone much this year, despite the club's falling out of contention early and Jose Peraza's similar offensive struggles. Still, Chavis has an impressive .190 isolated slugging in 114 major league games.

Turning arms into a ring
Kopech never threw an inning for the Red Sox, but he helped land the most dominant starting pitcher the Red Sox have had since Pedro Martinez. At the time of the Chris Sale trade in December 2016, Kopech’s value was extremely high. He was a 20-year old who could hit triple-digits on the gun and was coming off a dominant 2016 season in Salem that saw him strikeout 82 hitters in just 52 innings. While it’s tough to let go of an arm like that, especially for an organization that had struggled to draft and develop good major league starting pitchers over the past few years, using him to add a guy like Sale was a no-brainer. It certainly worked out well, as Sale finished in the top four in the Cy Young voting in both 2017 and 2018, and he probably would have won in 2018 had he not been limited to 158 innings. 

The Red Sox also executed a more minor trade in the summer of 2018 that also resulted in a key arm that helped win that World Series. Jalen Beeks’ (pictured, below) value was also high at the time of the trade for Nathan Eovaldi, as he had made 16 starts with the PawSox in 2018 and had a 2.89 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 87 1/3 innings. As a result, he got a taste of the big leagues with Boston shortly before the trade. Eovaldi would go on to post a 3.33 ERA for the Sox in 54 innings before completely dominating in the postseason. He tossed 22 1/3 innings in the playoffs with a 1.61 ERA, including a heroic performance in Game Three at Dodger Stadium. Beeks, meanwhile, has settled in as a useful big-league arm for the Rays, mostly as a bulk reliever following an opener. He even was starting to play a late-inning role in the club's bullpen recently before succumbing to the incredible rash of injuries that has sent 10 pitchers to that club's injured list.

Our analysis of the 2013 draft mentioned the narrative that the Red Sox can’t draft and develop pitchers. While that may have some truth to it, the development of talents like Kopech and Beeks into championship-building assets shows that a change in approach in the middle part of the decade may have played dividends. Gone was the focus on height and plane, and in came Brian Bannister and his implementation of a pitching development process using both modern analytics and the necessary coaching that allowed players to buy in and incorporate those changes.

While Kopech is still an unknown at the major league level, it is undeniable that the Red Sox helped improve his stuff in the minors, leading to dominating numbers which eventually was part of the reason that led them to Sale. The work Boston did retooling his delivery in the minors should not go unnoticed, getting him to go from a high-impact, trunk-twisting, upper-body heavy delivery to a more streamlined model that better incorporated his better half. The result was only better (though still inconsistent) command and fastball velocity that went from a la-di-da 100 miles per hour to reports of throwing 105 and an ongoing lookout to see if he could break the radar gun record.

Similarly, the Sox made a change to Beeks in the minor leagues, scrapping his slider for a cutter. Again, that pitch helped Beeks post big numbers in the minors in 2018 and become a trade target for Tampa Bay. The cutter has been a big pitch for Beeks, as he has a 3.26 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings for the Rays in 2020. According to Baseball Savant, Beeks threw his cutter just 6 percent of the time in 2019, but it produced such great results that that number has been upped to 14 percent so far this year. It’s not necessarily a put-away pitch, but it has greatly reduced the amount of hard contact off of him this year, as he is in the top 10 percent of the league in both barrel percentage and expected slugging percentage, according to Baseball Savant. 

Missed Opportunities 
As with every draft for every team, you can go back and find some misses. The Red Sox hoped to have an opportunity to get a couple more first-round draft picks, as they offered both Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew qualifying offers after the 2013 season. Both ended up resigning with the club anyway, Napoli on a two-year deal, and Drew on a one-year deal in the middle of the season after the deadline had passed for the Red Sox to receive a pick anyway. 

The Sox did pass on a pair of current MLB pitchers in Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty. Weaver has been up-and-down in his career so far, as he was really good in 2019, but has struggled mightily in 2020. Even though Kopech was considered the prospect with the higher upside at the time, Flaherty ended up signing for $500,000 more and has turned into an ace, finishing fourth in the NL in the Cy Young voting last year after posting a 2.75 ERA in 33 starts with a league-leading 0.96 WHIP. 

Final Thoughts
All baseball draft picks are gambles, but this draft seemed to have more than usual. Boston spent their first two picks on high school kids and their accompanying higher risk, but given the way they identified a pair of toolsy prep players who went on to become top 100 guys—one a key component of the Sale trade and the other currently with the big league club—the 2014 draft looks like a pretty good one, even if the returns aren't all-the-way back yet. Exactly how good it looks a few years down the line may turn on whether Chavis or Kopech turn into impact players. but it already seems like a success with what they got for Kopech and Beeks, even if their MLB success won’t be in Boston. 

Photo Credit: Michael Chavis and Jalen Beeks by Kelly O'Connor