When I was first asked about Chavez Young, honestly I vaguely recognized the name. I knew he was a Blue Jays outfielder, but that’s about it (and I work with prospects!). Just looking at the stat line, I was impressed. And the deeper I looked, the more I began to think that this might be the most criminally underrated prospect in baseball.
Quick question. Who was the only prospect in baseball to record 50 extra base hits and steal 40 bases in 2018? You guessed it, Chavez Young. Which prospect is rated as having the best defensive arm in the Blue Jays system by Baseball America, with 98 MPH from the outfield recorded in HS? You guessed it again, Chavez Young. So how does a player like this go so under the radar? How does a 20-year-old in full-season ball who plays plus defense, hits 3rd in his lineup and had 50 XBH and 40 steals not even make MLB Pipeline’s top 30 for the organization?
Let’s start off by saying who Chavez Young is. Chavez was born in the Bahamas, an area that is starting to get more buzz as a baseball country with prospects like Kristian Robinson and Jazz Chisholm recently coming out. But also an area that up until recently was rarely visited by baseball scouts. Since 1983, only one major league player has made the MLB from the Bahamas (Antoan Richardson). As a result, Chavez left the Bahamas in high school to pursue baseball in the prestigious Georgia prep ranks.
Blessed with elite athleticism and raw tools, Young quickly stood out even in the Georgia travel team ranks, playing for a team that has produced names such as Cedric Mullins and top 2019 prep arm Daniel Espino. Despite being scouted as somewhat raw but with elite tools and having a 3rd to 5th round draft grade by most scouts, Young fell to the 39th round due to concerns he would be tough to sign. The idea was that he was destined to go to a JUCO to improve his draft stock to a potential Day 1 pick. Much to the team’s surprise (and the excitement of the Blue Jays), Young did indeed sign for a well over slot $200k bonus.
While Young did, in fact, prove to be a bit raw, the switch-hitting outfielder flashed his ceiling often in his first two professional seasons. However, in Toronto’s talented system, he’s been overshadowed by names such as Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero Jr. and 2018 breakout players such as Cavan Biggio and Kevin Smith. However, Young’s 2018 breakout was just as impressive, if not more than, Biggio’s and Smith’s.
Young improved his game in just about every facet in 2018, slashing .285/.363/.445 in his first taste of full-season ball. This was despite him being more than a year younger than the competition. He dropped his K rate from 21.3% in 2017 to 18.6% in 2018, while simultaneously bringing his BB rate up from 4.5% to 10.6%, all against a higher level of competition! This is an excellent sign that he is improving as a hitter.
He also added muscle to his 6-0, 195 lb. frame, resulting in 33 doubles, 9 triples, and 8 home runs to go with those 44 steals! In the outfield he drew rave reviews for his defense in all 3 outfield positions due to plays like these: Diving Catch, Full Layout or leap up against the wall as well as his “best in the system” arm that’s only gotten stronger since throwing 98 MPH in High School. Young used this cannon arm to gun down an eye-popping 15 runners from the outfield last year. He used his excellent speed and developing baserunning to steal 44 bases (successful on 20 of his final 22 attempts) on the year, including this steal of home plate.
Power is often the last thing to come with prospects. And at just 20 years old with a highly athletic build, some of Young’s doubles and triples will start turning into home runs. But make no mistake, he has power now. Look at him get all of this ball or this bomb off of Padres top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore! In addition to his gains in power and plate discipline, Young uses all fields hitting it oppo 35.7% of the time as you can see in this spray chart from his FanGraphs page.
I haven’t even mentioned the thing that comes up the most when I talked to both his high school coaches and Blue Jays organizational people, which is the quality of this kid’s character. Chavez is truly beloved by teammates, coaches and the communities around him. This is both for his work ethic and personality.
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the voice of the Lansing Lugnuts (who Young played for in 2018) called Chavez a “Hugely charismatic guy who was terrific in the clubhouse, highly outgoing.” Goldberg-Strassler also noted that “last year, I saw a well-rounded player steal a ton of bases, throw out double-digit base-runners from the outfield, pile up 50 XBH, and lead the Midwest League in runs scored. He helped the Lugnuts win in many different ways. At the start of the year, he was batting in the bottom third of the lineup, and he progressed into a valuable 3-hole switch-hitter. I was not surprised to see him highlighted by Blue Jays brass as a successful under the radar prospect.”
His Georgia prep coaches said “Chavez has the best makeup of any kid I’ve ever seen and I played 10 years in the minor leagues. He is an incredible kid. I would leave my 8-year-old son with him and not worry about him at all!! Chavez is gonna be a big leaguer because of his make up!!” Article after article and tweet after tweet sang the praises of Young as a person. Players like that become fan favorites and guys that the organization wants to see succeed! Even Young’s mindset for how he plays the game makes me want to see him succeed as he told the Lansing State Journal “Coming from a late-round draft guy, I’ve just had to work for everything, I never forget that this is my dream job. I always have got to have fun doing it, no matter where I’m at. I’ve got to be even-keeled through the bad days and the good days. I’ve got to stay on that even plane always and keep having fun. The hard work will pay off.”
In addition to the praises of him as a person, the people who have watched him play in his MiLB career thus far sing praises about his game. One of those people is Blue Jays’ GM Ross Atkins, who went out of his way to mention that Young “doesn’t get enough praise”. As well as his prep coaches, former professional players who said “we saw the kid EVERYDAY for 3 years before he was drafted and tried telling people this kid is the real deal and gonna be a big leaguer! But it’s ok he is gonna continue to prove everyone wrong” and comped him to a “Switch-hitting Eric Davis”. Those words are coming from a guy who’s had 9 players drafted in the last 6 years out of HS and is currently coaching first-round lock Daniel Espino.
Chavez isn’t a finished product. He needs to do some work to cut down his 49% GB rate in 2018 down to 40-45%. However, he did cut it down by 3.6% from 2017. He needs to work on his left-handed swing a bit to maximize his switch-hitting ability and take the most advantage of his plus-plus speed. He also needs to continue to put on muscle and turn his plus raw power into plus game power. It remains to be seen how he handles High-A spin.
But this is a kid who improved in every facet of his game last year, showed power while stealing 44 bases (getting better at picking his spots as the season wore on), has hit for good average even in his more raw early years, uses all fields, and hits from both sides of the plate. Oh yeah, he also made highlight-reel catches while throwing damn near triple digit ropes from RF. All while avoiding injury. And of course is universally loved by teammates, coaches and fans.
It is time for people to talk about Chavez Young’s 2018 season, how good it was, the improvements he made and how good the kid is going to be! With his tools and makeup combo, he’s going to be a name everybody knows.