Michael Chavis can do so many things on a baseball field that he has to be careful: sometimes he ends up trying to do too much.
It was his dilemma with the Pittsburgh Pirates in spring training as he fought over playing time. He settled into the final days before the start of the regular season, revealed his natural skill with a bat in hand and showed the important ability to play in several positions.
“In the early spring, he wasn’t swinging the bat very well. He was trying to find his swing,” manager Derek Shelton said. “He was kind of trying to find his rhythm.”
Shelton said batting coach Andy Haines and assistant Christian Marrero helped Chavis adjust his swing and become more aggressive in the batting box.
Chavis said it was about putting the meat part of the bat on the ball.
“That’s a lot of what I try to do with the ball,” he said. “A lot of it wasn’t trying to do too much, really.
“Subconsciously it’s so easy for you to fall into this trap of trying to hit a home run or trying to destroy the ball every time. I’m really just trying to catch it on the barrel right now , to keep it simple, and that’s really what it comes across.
So far the results have been good. Heading into Monday night’s Pirates game in Milwaukee, Chavis was batting .500 (8 for 16) and leading the team in RBIs (six, thanks to his April 10 grand slam at St. Louis) — even while playing in just six of the first nine games.
Since being a first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2014, he’s played every inside position, as well as the two outside corner spots, in either MLB or the minor leagues.
Hoping Chavis, 26, could be a part of their future, the Pirates acquired him from the Red Sox at the 2021 trade deadline for pitcher Austin Davis.
With the Pirates this season, he’s started at first and third base, but he also can’t be ignored as an option at second. He’s part of a mix of players there that includes Diego Castillo, Hoy Park, Cole Tucker and Josh VanMeter.
“He’s got the ability to play multiple spots on the court and swing the bat,” Shelton said of Chavis. “It’s a very useful tool for us.”
He won’t have many chances at third overall, but he started there against the Washington Nationals on Sunday when Shelton wanted to give Ke’Bryan Hayes time off. When Hayes entered the game defensively in the eighth inning, Chavis went first.
But not before depriving the Nationals’ Cesar Hernandez of extra bases with a diving catch from a line behind the bag.
“(Playing defense) is important to me because I had to work for it,” Chavis said. “I’ve always been pretty good at hitting, but I was never really taught how to field a groundball until I turned pro.
“So once I got to pro ball it was something I had to work on to be good at. So when I make a good play or do something like that defensively, that’s something I’m really proud of.
With the bat this season, he’s hit a bit of everything — a double, a triple and a home run, plus five singles — and struck out for the first time on Sunday.
“I don’t expect to hit .500 all year,” he said. “But I’m really happy with the at-bats I put up.”
Chavis said coming to the Pirates was like bringing his career to life.
“I have a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “Guys like to play baseball here. I know we haven’t had the best record in recent years, but the guys here want to win and I think that’s really something important.
Every victory for the Pirates this season has come after erasing a deficit. Chavis hopes that also says something about the team.
“We lost a run in the eighth inning (Sunday),” he said. “It would have been so easy – we lost (101) games last year – to say ‘Oh, that’s another loss.’ But we fought back. We fought back the night before. That says a lot about the guys and the attitude we have in this clubhouse.
Jerry DiPaola is an editor at Tribune-Review. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .