This is the time of year for baseball fans to be eternally optimistic and consider the best-case scenario for their team. While it’s no longer true that any fan in baseball can talk themselves into their team making a run at the playoffs (if it was ever true), everybody has best-case scenarios for which they can root and be positive about in the spring. Red Sox fans can, of course, hope for a World Series championship again. That’s not unrealistic. It’s also not the only thing to be positive about. We are very early in spring training still, but both Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec have each looked very good to start camp.
In Chavis and Dalbec we are, of course, talking about arguably the top two prospects in the system, and if not at least possibly the two most exciting prospects in the system. Both of these guys have things that any of the other top names don’t since they are close to the major, can potentially play everyday roles, and most importantly they hit big ol’ dingers. Who doesn’t excited about that? In the very early going in spring, Chavis is the proud owner of a 1.345 OPS while Dalbec got off to a red-hot start, though a recent rough day knocked his OPS back to a more normal .800. More important than the small-sample numbers is just that they look the part. For people who have only read about these guys, their eyeballs are seeing in action what the words had been saying. It’s fun!
The natural reaction to this, of course, is to wonder how long it’ll be before we can see it in real, meaningful baseball and what the ripple effects of their arrival will be. It’s something I know I’ve been asked a million times over the last month or two, and if you listen to the Sox Prospects podcast (you should) it’s a question they get at least once every episode. When these guys are both in the majors, what happens with them and Rafael Devers? How do you fit them all in a lineup. Is Dalbec the third baseman of the future? Should Devers start preparing at first base? Is Michael Chavis the Dustin Pedroia replacement? And all of that is to say nothing of guys like Triston Casas, Brandon Howlett and Nicholas Northcut in the low minors, who also play third base. Fortunately, there is a simple answer to all of this: Let’s just chill for a minute.
It should go without saying that this isn’t the same as saying there’s no reason to be excited about any of the names mentioned above, specifically Dalbec and Chavis. You should absolutely be excited. Like I said at the top, that’s what this time of year is for. Expect the best-case scenario because that’s the most fun scenario. There’s clearly no issue with that. The issue is the calls for the team to start planning on a future that is, frankly, unlikely. Rafael Devers is far and away the surest thing in this supposed logjam, and the overwhelmingly most likely scenario is him playing third base in Boston for the foreseeable future.
Michael Chavis is the owner of a legitimate bat. He made big adjustments a couple of years ago to make more contact and stop selling out to his pull-side, and it has made all of the difference in the world. There’s no such thing as a sure thing for anyone without major-league experience, but I’m fairly confident he’s going to hold his own in the majors. That’s not to say he’s a superstar or anything like that, but he’s a solid bat that should carve out a role in the majors. Of course, we have no idea where he’d play in the field assuming his bat plays as well as I think it should. If the Red Sox can’t find a place for him defensively, he’ll likely serve as trade bait to a team that feels they do have a spot for him. Chavis is probably a major leaguer, but there’s no guarantee he’s a regular, never mind the decent chance he’s not even long for the organization.
Dalbec has a higher ceiling than Chavis, and makes this a more interesting question with respect to the future at third base, but there’s reason to be more uneasy about his future at the plate. While Dalbec’s power is absurd and he can draw walks, but he’s also going to strike out. It’s easy to point at high strikeout rates around the majors and assume Dalbec’s current swing will cut it, but the guys who strike out a lot but are still productive in the majors didn’t strike out at a 35+ percent rate in the minors. There’s a major adjustment that needs to be made by Dalbec if he’s going to make it. Clearly it’s possible and the Red Sox have earned the benefit of the doubt in developing hitters, and if he does get to that point then he plays a good enough third base that he actually could push Devers off the position. That being said, the Red Sox shouldn’t start getting Devers anything besides more experience at first base until we start to see sustainable signs Dalbec is going to make enough contact to make an impact.
This probably reads more pessimistic than I mean for it to, but the main takeaway is this: There is no logjam until there is more than one player at the position that has proven they are a major-league player. We are seeing what Chavis and Dalbec can be if they reach something close to their ceiling, and it’s wonderfully exciting. I’m enjoying every second of it. However, before we can talk about either of them pushing Rafael Devers off the hot corner or just generally affecting future roster plans, they have some outstanding questions that need to be answered. The good news is, they are the types of players that will be incredibly fun to watch while they provide those answers.