Humbled and hungry, Michael Chavis is causing best kind of problem for Red Sox

Michael Chavis arrived in the big leagues hungry.


A frantic, harried journey from Syracuse to Tampa Bay on April 19 didn't even get Chavis - the most heralded prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization - to Tropicana Field in time for first pitch, let alone afford him a moment to get a bite to eat.

"He was hungry," Red Sox left-hander David Price recalled with a laugh in a clubhouse interview this week. "You know, he had a long day getting to the field. His flight was delayed, and this and that, and he's like, 'Hey, can I eat this banana on the bench?' I'm like, 'Yeah, dude. Yeah. Eat that. Be ready.'

"And I was like, 'It's good, though. If you don't know something, just come and ask me, ask Mookie (Betts), ask J.D. (Martinez). Just ask somebody. We'll tell you.'"

Seemingly, Chavis hasn't needed much guidance throughout the first month of his MLB career. He's rocking a .967 OPS with 10 home runs after Wednesday's game in Toronto and has acquitted himself well at second base, a position he hadn't played professionally until six weeks ago. Chavis even ranks third among American League rookies in WAR despite spending the first fortnight of the season in Triple-A.

His success has been so outsized that it's creating something of a problem for the Red Sox, who expect to have veteran second baseman - and franchise icon - Dustin Pedroia back from the injured list in the near future.

Yet, amid the walk-offs and viral homers and GIF-able moments, Chavis' hunger remains. He's been a veritable sponge since coming up - insatiable in his desire to get better and more inclined than ever to listen rather than talk.

"Dude, there's so much to learn," Chavis said. "There's so much information. ... And it’s kind of tough to learn being the one talking."

That epiphany didn't come easily.

Kathryn Riley / Getty Images

Plucked like a peach out of his suburban Atlanta high school in the first round (26th overall) of the 2014 MLB draft, Chavis arrived on the scene as a teenager with a big pedigree and a big signing bonus ($1.87 million). That combination isn't exactly conducive to humility.

"I came into pro ball just being me: being loud, talking a lot, and everything like that," Chavis said. "And I actually got confronted by one of the staff members who was like, 'Hey, try listening and then talking.'

"Even looking back at it now it's like, 'Oh, this is some of the best advice I got.'"

Still, as humbling as a timely talking-to from a clubhouse attendant may be, it isn't nearly as instructive as failure. And failing is pretty much all Chavis did in his first three years as a professional.

In 2015 with Low-A Greenville, his first full season in the minor leagues, Chavis hit .223 with a .682 OPS and an eye-popping 30.1 percent strikeout rate. Forced to repeat the level the following year, Chavis' frustration began to mount, as did a litany of personal issues that contributed to another lousy year at the plate. He managed a mere .711 OPS in his second tour of Greenville, which culminated with a bout of insomnia.

"I had so much stuff going on with some off-field stuff with my family," Chavis said. "And while that stuff was going on I had insomnia, so I'd go, like, three days without sleeping. If you K three times one night, that next day is still pretty tough. ... Go back the next day, K twice again, still don't sleep? That third day is pretty dadgum tough.

"Baseball wasn’t an escape anymore. It wasn’t fun. And for me to perform, it's when I'm usually having fun. If you see me on the field, I like having a good time. I'm smiling a lot. I’m having a good time. And I hated it. I really did. I didn't like it. And I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know what to do with my life."

As the 2017 season loomed, Chavis believed he was at a crossroads in his career.

"I kind of felt like I was in a position where it was either you got to make an adjustment or you're not going to make it," he said. "And it might not have been that drastic, but that's just kind of the way that I felt."

To reverse his fortunes, Chavis primarily overhauled the mental side of his game. He stopped worrying about strikeouts. He started bringing his (now-famous) notebook to the bench to document in real time how pitchers were attacking him and how he'd fared. He started listening more attentively. He stopped trying to impress everybody all the time.

"I beat myself up mentally," Chavis said of his early years in the Red Sox system. "I'd be looking at who’s pitching (for the opposition) that day and I'd be, like, 'Oh, he's a first-rounder, so I have to get three hits off of him because I’m a first-rounder.' Stupid stuff like that."

His mental preparation started to focus on eliminating the negative thoughts that would get stuck in his brain ("Don't strike out") and reframing his approach at the plate.

"I literally had to force myself (to think): 'Don’t care about striking out. Don’t care about the results. Focus on what I can control.' And that’s where it started."

Success followed. Chavis broke out with High-A Salem in 2017, hitting .318/.388/.641 with 17 home runs, 17 doubles, and a perfectly fine 22.8 percent strikeout rate before getting promoted to Double-A Portland. There, he more than held his own as a 21-year-old, managing an .801 OPS in 67 games. By season's end, Baseball America and MLB Pipeline had pegged Chavis as a top-100 prospect.

An 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use marred his 2018 season, but Chavis' stock didn't take much of a dip. He ultimately hit .298/.381/.538 with 23 extra-base hits in 46 contests while splitting most of his time between Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

And just as Chavis' impact bat has been on display since joining the Red Sox, who've gone 19-10 since his April 20 debut, so too have the maturity and intellectual curiosity that helped resuscitate his career.

"Besides the results, I think it’s his willingness to learn and ask questions," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said when asked what's impressed him the most about Chavis.

"I feel like he’s always doing something to improve himself," Price said. "He’s never just sitting around doing nothing. He's in the cage or on the field taking ground balls, working at multiple positions in the infield, and catching fly balls in the outfield. He's always working on his game. You have to respect that. He's paying attention. He’s asking the right questions."

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Next, the Red Sox will need to figure out what to do whenever Pedroia is ready to return. The veteran second baseman opened the season on the injured list and returned there after appearing in just six games because of persistent irritation in his knee. He's been rehabbing at Triple-A since May 17, but it's unclear when he'll rejoin the big-league club.

For his part, Chavis has proven he deserves to be in the lineup every day. Yes, he can also play third base, his primary position in the minors, as well as first base. But those spots are currently occupied by Rafael Devers (who's posted a sparkling 127 OPS+) and Mitch Moreland, who's been even better (133 OPS+).

Alternatively, moving Chavis to the outfield seems a bit radical, even with Jackie Bradley Jr. off to a miserable start at the plate (either Andrew Benintendi or Betts could slide over to center in this scenario, with Chavis playing left). The DH spot is perpetually occupied by Martinez.

Tough decisions, in other words, are on the horizon.

Chavis, though, remains excited rather than apprehensive about Pedroia's return. While the rookie has already been taking advantage of his veteran teammates' expertise, no player on the active roster could possibly provide more insight into the intricacies of playing second base than Pedroia, a former American League MVP with four Gold Glove Awards on his resume.

"I'm not trying to take his position. ... I'm praying Pedey comes back," Chavis said. "I frickin' love that dude, man. I played catch with him for the first time in spring training and I called my mom afterward. I was like, 'This is unbelievable.'

"Selfishly, I’m hoping he comes back so that I can watch him play."

And no matter how this shakes out, expect Chavis to approach the future with humility and an open mind.

"I'm not trying to be the frickin' career second baseman or anything like that," he said. "I'm really trying to just work on my craft and focus on the process so that down the road, I am who I want to become."

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

Humbled and hungry, Michael Chavis is causing best kind of problem for Red Sox
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