Red Sox manager Alex Cora had some tough love for infielder Michael Chavis on Sunday.
The slugging former first round pick has shown an ability to hit hanging breaking balls a mile, and he has made himself versatile enough to play first base, second, third, and left field.
But if he wants to make the Opening Day roster, he's going to need to limit his strikeouts and show an ability either to master or lay off the high fastballs that have plagued him since midway through his rookie season.
This is a big year for the 25-year-old, but he faces a potential roster crunch, at least once Marwin Gonzalez's one-year deal becomes official. Because Gonzalez and starting second baseman Kike Hernandez are capable of playing virtually everywhere on the diamond, Chavis finds himself in the unenviable position of not being the primary backup anywhere on the field.
If the Red Sox open with a three-man bench and 14-man pitching staff, Chavis could be the odd man out in a battle with Christian Arroyo for the 26th and final spot.
"There are certain guys who are here to get ready for the season but in his case, he needs to prove to us that he's made adjustments throughout the offseason," Cora said. "Although spring training is spring training, I would love to see him making contact, cutting the chase rate, and if he does that, he'll put himself in a good position."
Chavis arrived in 2019 as a somewhat unheralded prospect, despite his pedigree. Selected in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft, his career stalled in the minors before an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs cost him half of the 2018 season.
He debuted as a pinch hitter against flame-throwing Rays reliever Jose Alvarado and promptly launched a 98 mph fastball to deep center for a ninth-inning double that keyed a Red Sox comeback. He homered 10 times in his first 28 games, many of them absolute moonshots, but in late May the Red Sox visited the Astros and Chavis ended up striking out six times in 11 at-bats, exposed by the pure power of ace Justin Verlander. A week later, fellow ace Gerrit Cole did the same.
From that point forward, Chavis hit .242 with a ghastly 93 strikeouts in 66 games. He homered just eight times to finish at .254-18-58-.766. His struggles continued last year, when he hit just .212 in 42 games.
"Michael, he had a great start in '19," Cora said. "He did an outstanding job hitting the ball up the middle. Obviously the home runs, we know he can do that. But then the league … that series against the Astros, I think it was back to back weekends. I think he faced the best pitchers in the league and they exposed him. He needs to make adjustments."
Cora noted that Chavis did arrive in camp in good shape, and commended his versatility, especially with the addition of left field to his resume.
"The thing with him, we like the swing, we like the power, but he needs to make adjustments," Cora said. "He needs to make contact. He needs to hit lefties, that's very important. He looks in better shape than two years ago. He lost some weight but he's still strong.
"He's been working at second base, but we'll use him at those three positions in the infield and we'll keep pushing him to play left field. So, there's nothing guaranteed on this roster."