The Red Sox are not a very fun baseball team to watch right now. It seems impossible since they brought back essentially the same roster as they had in 2018 when they were the most fun baseball team. Pretty much everything has been bad. The rotation was brutal early, though they’re turning it around of late. The bullpen was good early, but the depth options are starting to implode more often than not and late leads don’t feel safe. The offense has been the worst offender, with nights like Tuesday night when they went 1-12 with runners in scoring position. Some nights they just can’t get anybody on base. Others, they get them but then can’t drive them it. It’s frustrating, is what I’m trying to say.
One of the very recent positives is the infusion of some of the organization’s top prospects into the depth chart. There’s a very sound argument that this is, in fact, not a good thing, as articulated by Evan Drellich Tuesday night. It’s true that this is not a team that should be calling upon guys like Michael Chavis, Darwinzon Hernandez and Travis Lakins on a Tuesday night in April. They should be better prepared than that. But, if we can ignore that for a second, there is a certain joy that comes from prospects we’ve followed through the minors breaking through into the majors. It’s a good feeling! It’s particularly good when they perform well, too, as Hernandez and Lakins did in their respective major-league debuts on Tuesday. Neither was perfect, but we saw reasons for excitement, and that has been a rare sight in 2019.
Chavis, however, is the guy I’d prefer to focus on. The infield prospect, and the top prospect in the organization by the estimation of many (myself included), has been up for a bit longer than the pitchers. He got the call heading down to Tampa for this past weekend’s three-game sweep. He also feels like the guy who can have the greatest impact right now. Granted, I want to hedge on this a bit for a few reasons. For one, Chavis is not a perfect player. He’s made big strides with his swing, but there’s still some swing and miss there that can and likely will be exploited by some major-league pitchers. Additionally, it’s simply not fair to put any sort of team-turning expectations on a guy with four games under his belt.
On the other hand, his bat is *kisses fingers like a chef.* You hear so often that certain players produce a different sound when they make contact, and that’s something I kind of always rolled my eyes at. I didn’t doubt there was some difference, but it seemed like an over-exaggeration from scouts trying to talk up certain guys. Then I saw Chavis in Portland and he made contact hoo boy I heard a sound. Maybe you think I’m over-exaggerating to talk up a certain guy. That’s fair! But in terms of the ability to smoke a baseball, Chavis is the best hitter I’ve seen in Portland in a few years. We’ve seen that stroke in action, too, first when he smoked a 99 mph sinker from Jose Alvarado — one of the best relievers in the American League — back up the middle for a double. Then, on Tuesday, with his first career home runs that travelled 441 feet over everything in left field. The man hit the ball too well for him to even get to keep his first home run ball.
The hope here is that Chavis can provide a much-needed spark in a lineup. Like the “different sound” phenomenon I described above, the spark argument is something I have trouble with. Baseball is such an inherently individual sport that it’s hard to see how one rookie could spark performance from other hitters. But then, we saw something happen in 2017 when Eduardo Núñez first came to Boston and Rafael Devers was first promoted. The offense did look totally different after their additions, and not just because their spots improved. Other guys hit more. Part of it is probably some psychological effect that I’m not nearly versed enough in to talk about here. You see a guy succeed and feed off it, or at least that’s how the saying go. It also has to do with the pitcher battling more and suffering against the rest of the lineup. Whatever the reason, Chavis fits the bill as a potential sparkplug as a new face who can fill in at an underperforming position and lengthen the lineup.
There are some questions, of course, and reasons to temper the excitement just a bit. I mentioned the potential swing issues above. It should also be mentioned that major-league pitchers, coaches and scouting departments are, like, super good at what they do. They will adjust, and we have no idea how Chavis will react to that. There’s also the defensive questions. In an ideal world, the prospect would be filling it at second base where the Red Sox have gotten little-to-no production so far this year. However, he’s still extremely inexperienced there. He’s looked better than I expected, to be fair, but he hasn’t been pushed much either. He did look inexperienced on Tuesday on a few throws from left field where he had to turn and try to tag a runner out. That’s a more difficult play for someone who doesn’t regularly play second base than we generally consider, I think. That specific issue is not a long-term one, but it’s an example of how learning on the fly at the highest level can be tough.
Still, even if Chavis doesn’t have a position on an everyday basis, we’re talking about a guy who can fill in at third and first base as well as DH when he’s not playing second. That’s solid versatility. Most important, though, is the bat. The Red Sox offense has been infuriating a whole lot lately, and right now they can use all the talent they can find. There are going to be some decisions to be made if/when they get fully healthy. If Dustin Pedroia, Brock Holt and Núñez all return to health around the same time, the Red Sox have to choose between Chavis and all of those guys. I suspect they’ll keep all three and send Chavis back to Pawtucket. Given the small sample of his early major-league success, it’s a logical position. Still, with another couple strong showings Chavis will have made his case to me. Even if it means designating someone like Núñez and eating the salary, Chavis just might play his way into a full-time spot on this roster.