With his 80 game suspension behind him, Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis looks to re-establish his value and perhaps a role with the big league team.
After a breakout 2017 season, many Red Sox fans started wondering exactly how the team was going to fit Michael Chavis onto a mostly loaded roster, should he continue mashing this season. Should he be moved to second base and cover for Dustin Pedroia, then move to a bench role spelling second and third? Should he move to left field or pick up a first baseman’s mitt? Could he handle shortstop well enough to take over the Brock Holt role if Holt hadn’t put his vertigo issues behind him? It seemed one way or another, fans were determined to find a way to get him to the big leagues at some point in 2018.
Then the news broke that he was to be suspended for testing positive for PEDs. While it didn’t completely flush away his 2017, it did roll back the excitement almost entirely. He needed to come back and prove that the power was legit. Because that was the tool that carried him to top 100 status. He absolutely mashed in high-A in 2017 posting a 187 wRC+ over 59 games. That included 17 home runs while playing his home games in Lewis Gale Stadium, which saps home runs. When he was promoted to AA Portland, however, that wRC+ dropped to 114, mostly because his OBP dipped to .310. But he home runs were still there, with 14 dingers being tacked onto his season total in 67 games. Would the power continue after the suspension?
He’s back and he’s back… well, kinda big.
While his overall line in AA isn’t impressive yet, the big, loud power is back. Or, rather, appears to have not left. Chavis began his season in Lowell and spent five games abusing low-A pitchers. A 239 wRC+ with a home run and 4 doubles was all the Red Sox needed to see before putting him back in AA Portland where he finished the 2017 season with a .250/.310/.492 triple slash. In 6 games he hasn’t gotten it going overall, producing a meager 65 wRC+ but he did blast this moonshot yesterday:
So we’re left with the questions we had about him at the end of last year. Basically, can he mash against advanced pitching? He has game changing power and it appears that he will continue to have it at any level. But if he can’t get his OBP up over .310 in AA, it won’t matter. That said, many prospects need time to adjust to the jump from high-A to AA so let’s assume he does. Maybe not to the tune of 87% better than league average. But well enough to be a hitter something in the mold of Lucas Duda at the major league level. What then?
How does he fit into the roster long term?
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At 5’10 he’s a little short for a first baseman. Backing up the first base bag? Sure. But as a starter? You want someone with a bit more reach than that, ideally. Third base is currently occupied by Rafael Devers. Though an argument can be made for moving him to first or DH and slotting Chavis in behind him. The only problem there is that Bobby Dalbec, who has broken out in a big way this season, is a better defender at third. So he has two players, both of whom are likely better hitters, and at least one of which is a better defender competing with him for time there. If he had the glove to play shortstop, he wouldn’t have moved to third in the first place. And while he could probably handle left field, the Red Sox outfield isn’t hurting for options in the next few years.
One thing Chavis could do is take on the mantle of primary DH. His ability to play third and occasionally first would make it more of a traditional use of the position than the David Ortiz model. And of course, he may be able to cover second base here and there too. And that brings us to, perhaps, the most intriguing possibility for the current top prospect in the system. Dustin Pedroia’s knee surgery was supposed to put him on the field pain-free. It didn’t. Now, that doesn’t mean he can’t get back to playing without pain. But his first attempt didn’t go well and that inspires questions about whether he’ll ever be pain free again. And if he’s not pain free, at what point is it enough for him to hang up the cleats?
Short or long term, second base may be Chavis’ ticket to playing time in Boston.
Let’s assume Pedroia doesn’t retire this winter. How does that look for Chavis? Mitch Moreland is under contract next year, but so is the entire outfield plus J.D. Martinez. That means he would likely replace Steve Pearce and take the short side of the first base platoon, while giving Pedroia regular rest at second. Brock Holt will still be around and should still be the the super utility player. Having a bench player who can take over full time duties at third should Devers get hurt, or continue to struggle to the degree that he has to be sent to Pawtucket would be a nice ancillary benefit. And having the eventual long term replacement for Pedroia being able to learn from him for a year or two would also be a huge plus.
So let’s do the math. In 2017 the Red Sox faced left handed starters in 22.8% of their games. That will fluctuate year to year, but let’s round that down to 20% to be conservative. That’s about 32 games where he could start at first base instead of Mitch Moreland. Now let’s assume Pedroia needs about one night off a week to stay fresh and healthy. That’s at least another 25 starts at second base. Add in 5-10 at third base, and maybe 15-20 at DH and we’ve got 77 starts on the low end, plus pinch hit and late inning sub opportunities. Not bad for a part time role for a year or two until Pedroia is ready to retire.
And if Pedroia gets genuinely healthy and a replacement isn’t needed until the end of his contract in 2021, Chavis could still be a nice trade chip. In the meantime, he presents the Red Sox with a chance to hedge their bets. This could all end up being a moot point if Chavis ends up the headliner for a big trade this week or over the winter, of course. But it seems like there are a few potential paths toward him having a long term future at Fenway. Where do you see him fitting in?