ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s worth wondering what the presence of a prospect suddenly thrusted into a team full of veterans can do.
But Alex Cora doesn’t buy into that theory.
Michael Chavis “doesn’t lack confidence,” the manager said after the rookie provided a much-needed spark with a missile off Rays’ ace reliever Jose Alvarado to key a ninth-inning rally on Saturday night. Chavis talks fast and says what’s on his mind. He’s the opposite of the last first-round pick the Sox called up to the big leagues, Andrew Benintendi, whose as quiet as a church mouse.
With the Red Sox ranking last in almost every category at production at second base this year, and getting little out of third baseman Rafael Devers (six errors, .670 OPS), can Chavis presence motivate some guys?
“I don’t believe in stuff like that,” Cora said Sunday. “If you’re not motivated enough playing in the big leagues, you’re playing the wrong sport, in the wrong business. On a daily basis you should be motivated.”
Sunday morning, Chavis was out on the field early taking a crash course at second base with infield instructor and former big league second baseman Carlos Febles.
And while both Cora and Dave Dombrowski said on Friday that Chavis wouldn’t play much second base, and Dombrowski said the 23-year-old was unlikely to stick around in the majors long, there was Chavis in the starting lineup, batting seventh and playing second as the Sox look for a sweep over the first-place Rays.
“He can make the routine play, we saw it in spring training,” Cora said. “We have some good coaches here that are going to help him out, put him in the right spot. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable but he hasn’t played the position. He should be fine.”
Eduardo Nunez, Dustin Pedroia and Tzu-Wei Lin haven’t offered much with the bat this year. Chavis is an offensive-first player, a natural shortstop who has played the corner infield spots in the minors. He has only five games of experience at second base.
But the position isn’t as demanding as it once was. With analytics helping defenders to be better-positioned, and the new rules preventing much contact on double play attempts at second base, defensive ability isn’t being prioritized at second.
Former Red Sox third baseman Travis Shaw played some second base in Milwaukee, and the Brewers are now using third baseman Mike Moustakas as their primary second baseman. Max Muncy, a career corner infielder in the minors, is now the Dodgers’ primary second baseman.
Chavis deserves a shot.
“There are a lot of things that are different at second base,” Cora said. “You still have to make the plays. Defensively they put you in spots where the ball is going to be hit. It’s not like a tough play, you know? They put you in spots most likely it’ll come right at you as a routine play. You see teams around the league doing it with Muncy, Travis, Moustakas, nobody expected those guys to play second base.
“The way defense is now, and the rules at second base, it’s a lot different. I hate saying back in the day because I’m not that old, but when I played I took pride in turning a double play and not getting hit. That’s a skill. Now it’s, get there on time, catch it and throw it. If they hit you, you’re out.”
With the Sox getting little offensively from Jackie Bradley Jr. and expecting little from Sandy Leon’s bat, it would appear they could use an offensive-first player at second.
“On a daily basis, we’ll decide that,” Cora said. “I think people get too caught up on offense, defense, whatever. We’d love the complete package. It’s like when people talk about Sandy’s offense. Well, if you rely on Sandy’s offense to win the pennant, a lot of people struggle.”