Michael Chavis joined exclusive company in Red Sox history.
The 24-year old infielder had himself a day against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, going 3-for-4 with a home run. The two-run shot came on a changeup from Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough that caught too much of the plate. Chavis crushed the pitch 421 feet, obliterating one of the cardboard cutout “fans” in the center field seats.
The home run was the second of the season for Chavis and the 20th of his career, a milestone he reached in 103 games. Only five players in franchise history have reached 20 career home runs in fewer games.
It took Teddy Ballgame 118 games to get to 20 home runs during his rookie campaign in 1939. Williams finished that season with 31 homers and a fourth-place finish on the AL MVP ballot.
Chavis has to settle for splitting his first 20 career home runs across two seasons since he wasn’t on the Opening Day roster last year and finished the season on the injured list. He tallied 18 home runs in 95 games, putting him on pace for 31 home runs over the course of a full season. The same total that the Splendid Splinter had as a rookie.
So, yes, Chavis had his power stroke going at a rate comparable to the greatest hitter who ever lived at this stage of his career and he made it to 20 home runs faster than Williams did. Does that mean Chavis is destined for stardom?
Don’t bet on it. Home runs are only part of what makes a great hitter. Chavis has a high ceiling in the power department but if he doesn’t cut back on the strikeouts then he’ll never be much more than a free-swinging slugger.
While reaching this milestone so quickly is an impressive accomplishment, history tells us that it doesn’t necessarily foreshadow the emergence of a star player.
No Red Sox hitter reached 20 home runs faster than Walt Dropo. The former first baseman tallied 20 in a mere 79 games on his way to bashing 34 in his first full season to capture the AL Rookie of the Year award and an All-Star selection.
1950 would be the only All-Star season for Dropo. He never reached 30 home runs in a season again, finishing his career with 152 over 13 seasons. The Red Sox traded him during the 1952 season and he became a journeyman who bounced around to four other clubs.
Norm Zauchin came the closest to Dropo’s franchise record, logging his 20th career home run in 81 games. Zauchin finished his rookie season with 27 home runs but added only 23 more over the next four seasons before his career ended in 1959 at the age of 29.
The next name on the list will be more familiar. We have every reason to believe that Tony Conigliaro had the talent to develop into a superstar. He hit 24 home runs as a rookie and followed that up with a career-high 32 in his sophomore campaign.
If only his career weren’t derailed by getting hit in the face by a pitch, abruptly ending his lone All-Star season in 1967. Tony C sat out the following season and was never quite the same again when he returned. He battled issues with his vision in the fallout of his career-crippling injury and was forced to retire by the age of 26. His comeback attempt during Boston’s pennant-winning 1975 season barely got off the ground but at least it gave him the opportunity to end his career with the Red Sox.
Will Middlebrooks emerged as a fan favorite after bashing 15 homers in 75 games to begin his career. Unfortunately, a series of injuries destroyed his promising career. Middlebrooks just couldn’t stay healthy, failing to appear in more than 94 games in any of his six seasons.
The Red Sox traded him to the San Diego Padres after the 2014 season but the change of scenery did little to keep him healthy. Middlebrooks found himself with a new team in each of his final four seasons, the last of which was on a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. A gruesome broken leg in spring training ended his stint in Philadelphia before it could begin and forced him into retirement.
The one player on this list who lived up to his early success was Carlton Fisk, who tallied 22 home runs on his way to winning the AL Rookie of the Year and finishing fourth in the MVP race. FIsk would go on to earn 11 All-Star appearances and an induction into the baseball Hall of Fame.
Fisk is undoubtedly the greatest catcher in Red Sox history but he wasn’t known for his home run totals. His career-high 37 home runs came long after he left Boston. During his tenure with the Red Sox, Fisk never hit more than 26 in a season. That’s great production from a catcher but it’s not what you would expect from someone on a list of home run milestones.
Being among the fastest to reach 20 home runs has seldom led to a successful career for Red Sox hitters. Chavis is certainly off to a strong start but we’ve seen this story before. He has the raw power to be a 30+ home run hitter but he needs to improve other aspects of his game if he wants to stay in the lineup often enough to reach that total.
The milestone tied to his 20th home run is a fun fact that Chavis will always be able to carry with him but it’s hardly a sign that he’s on the verge of being the next great Red Sox slugger.