When I was first asked about Chavez Young, I honestly 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. David Laurila also took note recently here at FanGraphs.
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 high school? 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 third in his lineup, and had 50 extra-base hits and 40 steals not even make MLB Pipeline’s top 30 for the organization?
Let’s start off by saying who Chavez Young is. Young was born in the Bahamas, an area that is starting to get more buzz as a baseball country after producing prospects like Kristian Robinson and Jazz Chisholm. But it is 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 third-to-fifth-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 junior college to improve his draft stock to a potential Day-One pick. Much to the team’s surprise (and the excitement of the Blue Jays), Young did indeed sign for a well-over-slot $200,000 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, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Kevin Smith. However, Young’s breakout last year was undeniably impressive.
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 strikeout rate from 21.3% in 2017 to 18.6% in 2018 while simultaneously bringing his walk 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-foot, 195-pound frame, resulting in 33 doubles, 9 triples, and 8 home runs to go with those 44 steals. He drew rave reviews for his defense in all three outfield positions due to plays like these, 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. This spray chart shows him hitting it oppo 35.7% of the time.
I haven’t even mentioned the thing that comes up the most when I talked to both his high school coaches and those in the Blue Jays organization, which is the quality of this kid’s character. Chavez is truly beloved by the teammates, coaches, and communities around him. He was especially noted 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 extra-base hits, 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 three-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. Hee 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 comped him too a “switch-hitting Eric Davis,” and added “we saw the kid every day for three years before he was drafted and tried telling people this kid is the real deal and is gonna be a big leaguer! But it’s ok, he is going to continue to prove everyone wrong.” Those words are coming from a guy who’s had nine players drafted in the past six years out of high school and is currently coaching a first-round lock in Espino.
Chavez isn’t a finished product. He needs to do some work to cut down on his 49% ground-ball rate in 2018. 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.
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 near-triple-digit ropes from right field. He also did all of this 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 could be. With his combination of tools and makeup, he could end up to be a name everybody knows.
Writer @baseball-farm.com prospects and draft coverage mainly. UW Grad, Mariners fan and all sports enthusiast.