It would have been easy for Michael Chavis to experience disappointment when he learned where he would open the season.
Chavis, the Red Sox’ top pick in the 2014 draft, spent last season as part of a wildly talented group in Single A Greenville. He led the Sox farm system with 16 homers there, but he hit just .223 with a .277 OBP and .405 slugging percentage.
While the other highly regarded members of Greenville (including Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and Nick Longhi) moved on to High A Salem this year, Chavis stayed with the Drive to open this season.
There are instances of players forging impressive careers after repeating at a lower level of the minors.
Christian Vazquez, for instance, spent two seasons in Greenville, using his second year as something of a career springboard. Still, the tales of prospects who stalled out after repeating at a level are numerous.
Yet as Chavis contemplated the possibility that he might return to Greenville, he arrived at an understanding that where he would open his second full pro season need not shape his future.
“If someone repeated A-ball and did not make it to the big leagues, that has no correlation with me,” said Chavis. “I know my talent and I know how hard I’m going to work. I’m going to do everything possible to make it to the big leagues. What other people have done, whether they’ve repeated A-ball or skipped A-ball, whether they’ve gone straight to the big leagues, that has nothing to do with me.”
Chavis sought the counsel of a nutritionist and followed a two-a-day workout program that allowed him to shed 18 pounds while improving his flexibility and mobility for playing third base.
He also used the offensive struggles of his first full professional season to come to critical realizations about how he would need to improve as a hitter.
“When I was going into my first pro season, there were a lot of things thrown in my face. It was my first time playing in front of fans, first time playing in a stadium, and also playing with a lot of older guys,” said Chavis. “I kind of had the wrong approach, not only when I was hitting but also in regards to the game . . . It’s something that I kicked myself for the entire offseason.”
The early-season results have been eye-opening. Chavis entered Thursday night with a .388 average, .444 OBP, and .633 slugging mark with three homers in 12 games. After striking out in 30.6 percent of plate appearances in 2015, he’s at 18.5 percent this year.
“This isn’t the case of a kid who stepped in this year and is picking up where he left off last year. This is a kid who made some marked improvements in the offseason and came back a different player,” said Greenville manager Darren Fenster. “In a very small sample here for two weeks, he’s leaps and bounds from where he was at the end of last year.”
“The swing is under control. Because the swing is under control, he’s able to recognize pitches better. He’s not just fouling off balls that he was fouling off last year. He’s not swinging and missing at pitches out of the zone nearly as much as he did last year because the recognition is there and everything is under control. It’s kind of a lot of things coming together all at once, and it’s good to see, because he put in a lot of time and he’s been through a lot with the struggles he had last year.”
Part of Chavis’s success may derive from the fact that he’s getting an opportunity to be an everyday third baseman, after spending 2015 in a timeshare at that position and designated hitter with Devers. Given that view, the Sox won’t rush Chavis to Salem — and back into a playing-time jumble with Devers — early in the season if he continues to excel.
Chavis says he won’t sweat the timetable of a possible promotion.
“I think I’ve proved this year that I can do better, and I hope that continues throughout the system,” he said. I haven’t really worried about it or gotten upset about [being in Greenville] or stressed about it. God has a plan, and so do the Red Sox for me. I think as long as I play and take care of myself on the field, I think it will all work out.”
Travis on a tear
Pawtucket’s seven-game winning streak was snapped Thursday afternoon, with Sam Travis going 0 for 3 after a dazzling road trip. The first baseman has added to the impression he made both in 2015 and in spring training that his tremendous bat speed and ability to get the barrel on the ball create the potential for a standout hitter. In eight games on the trip, the 22-year-old hit .382/.405/.529 . . . Through three starts, likely Sunday call-up Henry Owens, 23, has a 1.00 ERA with 23 strikeouts (second-highest total by a Triple A pitcher) and a .138 opponents’ batting average (second lowest against a Triple A starter). Heath Hembree, who was in Pawtucket for Owens’s three starts, said the lefthander has mixed pitches (fastball, slider, curveball, and his signature change) in a way that has allowed him to keep opponents off balance. “Just seeing him at the end of last year and this year, you can tell he’s matured a lot,” said Hembree. “We talk a lot. I just told him, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ because he’s doing a lot of good things right now.”
Salem returned to LewisGale Field on Thursday after sweeping a seven-game road trip, just the second time in franchise history that it didn’t suffer a loss on a trip of seven or more games. Moncada, 20, is tied for the minor league lead with 13 steals (albeit with four caught stealings, matching his total in 53 steal attempts from 2015), and the team’s 34 steals were the most of any team in the minors . . . Shortstop Mauricio Dubon, 21, carried a 10-game hitting streak into Thursday, during which he was hitting .385/.457/.410 with six walks and nary a strikeout in 47 plate appearances.
Righthander Kevin McAvoy, a 2014 fourth-rounder out of Bryant University in Rhode Island, displayed a power sinker that resulted in some of the best ground ball numbers in the minors in 2015. Still, in that season with Salem, he struck out just 5.2 per nine innings and walked an uncomfortable number of hitters (4.5 per nine) for someone pitching to contact. Given that precedent, the start of McAvoy’s 2016 season has intrigued. He’s 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA for Double A Portland while striking out 14 and walking six in 16⅔ innings. “McAvoy is trusting his sinker while showing the ability to throw a curveball and changeup to complement [it],” Portland pitching coach Kevin Walker wrote in a text. Walker noted that McAvoy, 22, also has shown the ability to work ahead and attack the inner part of the plate with his 89-93-m.p.h. sinker (average 90-91), resulting in bad swings that have yielded a .164 batting average by opponents.