The education of Michael Chavis

Rob Bradford
August 28, 2019 - 12:08 pm

Michael Chavis didn't want to put his rookie season on pause, but he didn't really have a choice. His injured shoulder helped put up the stop sign and suddenly the infielder found himself with some unexpected time to reflect.

"When you’re in the middle of things it’s kind of tough to look at what you’ve done or accomplished," Chavis said on the McCoy Stadium field, just before participating in his third rehab game with th Pawtucket Red Sox. "When I was going through that stuff when I was hot it felt like everything I hit was a hit but I wasn’t really able to look back and say, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ Looking back there were some times I felt like I was struggling but then looking back thinking, ‘Hey dude, you were good.’ Learning the day to day aspect of it is different. It’s just different and you have to learn. There have been some tough days, tough weeks, tough months. There have been good days, good weeks, good months. A lot of it is just learning."

As it turned out, this brief respite from major league baseball has allowed Chavis some welcome introspection.

The whirlwind that began in St. Petersburg, Fla. on April 20 seems like a blink of an eye ago. 

But now that Chavis can take a step back, he has a better view of those 382 plate appearances and 95 games. Yes, this injury -- which has sidelined him since Aug. 11 -- stinks.

Adding to the reminder is another taste of where he came from, the minors. This was where he was supposed to be for at least a few months to begin this 2019 season, not just a few weeks. Now that Chavis has been reintroduced to the Triple-A life, it seems like more than a world away.

"It’s different. It definitely is. In the big leagues. one of the first things I realized is that everything matters," he said. "Every play, every pitch matters. That’s one of the things you have to adjust to. It was really easy to kind of get overwhelmed with too much information, the attention to detail. The everyday aspect of it. Trying to learn as much as I can while staying true to myself because there is so much information, there are so many veteran players, there are so many experienced coaches and there are so many players I’m playing against I want to learn from. There are so many people I want to learn from. Even on the pitching staff I want to learn how pitchers think, how they work, learn how I’m perceived by other teams. Me hitting three-hole in Triple-A the way I’m perceived is going to be completely different me hitting eight-hole in the big leagues. Even though I’m the same player, it’s different. So there is a lot to learn."

And, as he recalled, the reality of exactly how much Chavis had to learn was thrown at him right out of the gate.

"I remember the first or second series when we were having a hitters meeting and I remember thinking, ‘I know a lot about hitting and they were saying words and I felt like they were speaking a different language.’ Just learning that aspect of it," he said. "With the information overload as much as information they have for us I didn’t really comprehend that they have that much on me. In the minor leagues if you’re struggling with something or working on something, or, say for example, you have a bad series and you go on the road, when you go on the road in the minor leagues you get a chance to start over. When you go on the road in the big leagues they were just watching everything that just happened and they know how you just struggled so they’re like, ‘Hey, we’re going to keep doing it!’ That was something I didn’t understand and while it was happening I was still trying to comprehend it, learn and adjust."

Chavis' rookie season has gone like many of first-year introductions to the majors usually do. Riding the roller coaster. 

He sits .254 batting average and .766 OPS. Up until August, each of his previous three months had resulted in similar numbers, with OPS of .780, .730 and .786, respectively. August, however, has represented the largest dip in production with Chavis hitting just .156 with a .456 OPS in his 11 games this month.

The league now has the book on Chavis, and what makes it even more frustrating for the 24-year-old is that he knows exactly what it is.

"I’ve been struggling with the high fastball, straight-up. That’s what it is," he said. "So in the minor leagues there would be something if I was struggling with that the next series I would have an opportunity to flush it and reset because it’s another series and I could start over. I know how to hit a high fastball but when you kind of get peppered with something every single day you start to buy into it. Honestly, that contributed to it more than the physical part of it, just getting in my own way mentally.

"You start trying to cheat to it or start believing, ‘Maybe I can’t hit a high fastball. Maybe I should lay off of it.’ You get caught in between and you take a half-swing or you check swing. You just get caught in a lot of uncomfortable situations. So a lot of it is getting out of my own way and this will be a great chance to reset."

What makes it even more baffling for the righty hitter is another reminder this time in the minors has offered: Up until this season this high fastball problem was never an issue at all.

"One hundred percent," said Chavis when asked if he could always hit the pitch that has become his Kryptonite. "Even through the minor leagues. Guys have vertical rise. Guys have good fastball and throw hard. I’ve hit high fastballs my whole life. It’s just the mental aspect of getting in my own way."

So while Chavis continues to get his at-bats with PawSox he also has been gifted something unexpected during his trip back to Rhode Island: Perspective.

"It’s been fun. There’s been a bump in the road, but I’ve enjoyed it. Weirdly I’ve enjoyed the struggle because it’s given me an opportunity to learn," he noted. "That’s weird to say because struggling sucks, but I have enjoyed it."