Michael Kopech was drafted No. 33 overall of last years draft. (Rob Bradford/WEEI.com)

Red Sox Minor League Notebook: Year after playing high school ball, 2014 first-round picks reflect on turning pro

Ryan Hannable
May 08, 2015 - 12:33 pm
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Last year at this time, Michael Chavis and Michael Kopech were spending their days in high school classrooms, and playing baseball for their high school teams after school. Now, after both being drafted in the first round by the Red Sox in the 2014 draft, they are professional baseball players getting paid to play the game they love. Both are with Single-A Greenville after spending last summer in the Florida Gulf Coast League. "We do talk about how crazy it is that this time last year we were playing high school baseball," Chavis said via phone. "During the summer, my birthday is August 11 and I was talking to him [last summer], and it's funny we were playing down in Fort Myers together and I was saying last year we were playing in the All-American game against each other when he was on the West squad and I was on the East squad. It's just crazy looking back at that and we've both gone through the travel ball circuit playing against each other. Now it's a great experience and opportunity for us to play together." "It's a great experience. I am glad I got to come to Greenville, as it's close to home," he added. "It's kind of cool because we had a few days off a couple days ago and I got to go to my high school and play a high school game. It was crazy watching all my buddies playing high school ball and thinking that I am at the professional level. Just a few months ago I was playing high school baseball. It's hard to wrap my mind around." Chavis, an infielder, was drafted No. 26 overall, while Kopech, a right-handed pitcher, was drafted No. 33 overall. Kopech said being a professional is much different than playing high school and travel ball, but it's something he's always wanted to do and had his mind focused on. "Yeah, it's a little different," said Kopech via phone. "Honestly, it's what I always wanted. It's what I always expected. It's fallen into place. That's how I think of it. It's a dream come true, don't get me wrong. It's exactly what I expected. It's fun though. I like going out there with good competition and trying to compete. It's a lot of fun." The biggest difference for him now that he's a professional, is he can't just step on the mound and throw. He has to have a plan. "You just always have to have an approach," Kopech said. "High school hitters you could throw three fastballs, or some you could grow three breaking pitches. You can't do that in professional baseball. You have to have an approach. Everybody can adjust. If you're trying to compete and challenge a hitter, you have to be smarter than them." Both are having successful starts to their seasons, particularly Kopech. The 6-foot-3 hard-throwing righty is 1-2 with a 3.76 ERA. He's struck out 17 hitters in 18 2/3 innings. He was also named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week earlier in the year. Kopech has received a great deal of attention of late for his velocity, as he's hit 100 mph on the radar gun. The 19-year-old feels the best he's ever felt. "Right now is the hardest I've ever thrown," he said. "I am sitting 95-98, 95-99. Really physically I feel better on the mound. Mentally as far as confidence wise, I've always kind of had the same approach. I feel just as confident last year as I do this year. That is doing me well right now." Chavis is hitting .220, but is slugging .402. He said he feels comfortable at the plate and the numbers will work themselves out. In the field, Chavis is playing exclusively at third base, instead of bouncing back and forth between shortstop and third like last year. He said focusing on playing one position has helped him a great deal with learning how to play as a professional. "I am happy that I am playing it full-time so that I can focus on getting better at third base instead of trying to learn to play professionally at two positions like I was last summer," he said. "I am happy I can focus on this position. It's not an easy transition. At shortstop you can get reads on the ball and you can play the ball yourself. At third base, the ball plays you and you have to react. That's a huge difference. I am feeling more comfortable as the days go by." Chavis is known for his outgoing personality, displayed at the draft when he wore a pink bow tie. He's been compared to Red Sox prospect Garin Cecchini, as players who simply just love playing the game. In a weird oddity, when you Google Chavis, Cecchini's Wikipedia pops up. He said he and Cecchini have spent time together and he sees the comparisons. "We were taking ground balls together one day and we were talking -- not really talking about anything specific, just having a good time out there working," Chavis said. "He seems like a really great dude. "I'm playing a kids game and getting paid for it. My friends ask me if I ever get tired of signing autographs and no, I don't at all. I am 19 years old. I have my own baseball card. People are looking up to me. Everybody says this, but it's a dream come true." SWIHART GETS THE CALL The Red Sox didn't want to call up catcher Blake Swihart this soon, but they were forced to last Saturday when starting catcher Ryan Hanigan went down with a fractured finger, and Christan Vazquez was already out for the season because of Tommy John surgery. Swihart was quickly thrown into the fire, playing his first two games against the Yankees -- the second on Sunday Night Baseball. He did take time to take a step back and realize he was living a dream, making it to the big leagues. "That is the ultimate goal, always," Swihart said. "You just want to go out there and have an approach, stick to that approach and have confidence in yourself." The catcher has a lot on his plate, being a switch-hitter adjusting to major league pitching, and most importantly, learning an unfamiliar pitching staff. Swihart knows it's all about winning at this big league level. "Going out trying to play the game that I know how to play," said Swihart. "At the end of the day, it is all about having fun and winning. I just want to do all I can to contribute to this team and help win." Red Sox Director of Player of Development Ben Crockett said he noticed Swihart feeling more confident this spring and carried over to the first few weeks of the season. The confidence could come from this year being his second major league spring training. "I think with it being Blake's second spring training in major league spring training, he felt more comfortable," Crockett said prior to Swihart being called up last week. "He was more engaged just like Christian [Vazquez]. I think in anyone's second major league camp you feel a little bit more like you belong in that group. I think that he did get some game repetition up there. He got to work with different pitchers. I think that is always a learning experience for a young catcher. He's done a nice job in Triple-A swinging the bat successfully and he continues to work at some of the finer points behind the plate." BARNES' ROLE CHANGE It appears Matt Barnes will be going back to the bullpen, and will be with the Red Sox as soon as Saturday. The right-hander pitched out of the Pawtucket bullpen Wednesday night, a night he was scheduled to start. With Edward Mujica reportedly DFA'd, all signs point to Barnes joining the big league team, likely on Saturday and pitching out of the bullpen. On a conference call Thursday, general manager Ben Cherington said his long-term role has yet to be decided, but this gives him a chance to impact the major league club now. "€œI think we'€™re just trying to prepare him to potentially help the major league team,'€ Cherington said. '€œThere'€™s no long-term determination on what he is. And we certainly believe he can be a starter in the long run, but we'€™re just simply trying to prepare him to be in a position to help the major league team." In 13 innings (three starts) in Triple-A this year, Barnes has allowed six runs and struck out 14. Barnes will be a pitcher who can give the Red Sox bullpen a hard-thrower they've lacked. 3 STARS OF THE WEEK 1. Jackie Bradley, OF, Pawtucket -- The outfielder is on fire at the plate, as he has had multi-hit games in his last six games, and is hitting .542 (13-for-24) in that span. Overall for the season he's batting .385. 2. Rafael Devers, 3B, Greenville -- The 18-year-old has 10 hits in his last three games, as he went 5-for-6 in a game on May 3. His average is up to .405 on the season, and is a prime candidate for a promotion despite his age. 3. Pat Light, RHP, Portland -- The hard-throwing right-hander has been shifted to the bullpen, and the results have been apparent. He went four straight outings without allowing a run. In 16 innings this year he's struck out 21 batters, including five out of six batters in a game May 1.

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