You don’t hear much about him, but Blue Jays’ prospect Chavez Young does everything you need in am everyday CF
On Wednesday afternoon, the Chavez Young Fan Club was discussing a comment made by Kiley McDaniel, FanGraphs’ prospect analyst, during his weekly chat. McDaniel noted that, while most scouts view Young as a fourth outfielder in the majors, he and Eric Longenhagen were intrigued by Young’s performance for his age/level and his ability to effectively play centre field. That comment and the ensuing conversation reminded me that many baseball watchers just don’t see what we see in Chavez Young. This post is intended to fix that.
In a nutshell, Chavez Young is a legitimate everyday CF prospect because he does everything well. He has better plate discipline than most of his peers. He is a switch-hitter with better bat-to-ball skills and more gap-to-gap, doubles and triples power than most. He is no slouch when it comes to hitting homers, an area I think he will improve on as he develops. He is more dangerous on the basepaths than most and he is a more effective defender than most centre fielders. He also appears to have off-the-charts makeup, which both makes him easier to cheer for and makes him more likely to reach his ceiling. He’s good at baseball, is what I’m saying, and I’d be happy to provide a lot more detail.
Young was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 39th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. As his $200,000 bonus suggests, he is not a typical 39th rounder. This post by Alex Jensen of Baseball Farm effectively explains why. Considered talented enough to go somewhere in the third to fifth round, Young went undrafted for so many rounds because teams felt he was dead-set on attending junior college in order to boost his draft stock. The Jays took a low-risk chance (losing a 39th round pick wouldn’t have been the end of the world) and were rewarded when he signed. The reward from this risk has only grown in the time since that draft, with his development progressing as well as anyone could have hoped.
An ability to accumulate walks and (especially) avoid strikeouts is an important characteristic for lower-level prospects, as it forms the basis of future development at the plate—power can show up late in a player’s development, but good plate discipline is a much trickier thing to learn.
Chavez Young displayed excellent plate discipline in 2018, his first year playing at a full-season level. He walked plenty—posting a 10.8% walk rate, 83rd percentile among Class A batters with at least 300 PA—and kept a tidy strikeout rate (18.6%, 73rd percentile). His strong walk and strikeout rates helped him maintain one of the best walk-to-strikeout ratios at his level (0.58 BB/K, 88th percentile). Underlying this solid plate discipline is a demonstrated ability to avoiding swings and misses, with his 10.6% swinging strike rate ranking in the 65th percentile at Class A last season.
Young’s plate discipline also stands out against other Class A batters in their age-20 season. From 2006 to 2018, 525 batters saw at least 300 plate appearances in their age-20 season at Class A. Young’s walk rate (82nd percentile), strikeout rate (63rd percentile) and walk-to-strikeout ratio (82nd percentile) were each better than most batters in that sample. His strikeout rate stands out even more if we adjust it for the changing times—the average age-20 Class A batter ran a strikeout rate of 19% back in 2006, compared to 23.2% in 2018. In Young’s case, his season-adjusted strikeout rate ranks in the 75th percentile of our sample.
Young also excels at turning balls in play into base hits, with his .344 BABIP ranking in the 78th percentile at Class A last season and in the 80th percentile among his age-20 peers going back to 2006. With a relatively low strikeout rate and strong BABIP, Young was able to maintain a .285 batting average last season (85th percentile among 2018 Class A batters and 82nd percentile among recent age-20 Class A batters). Add in his solid walk rate and it’s no surprise that he produced an excellent on-base percentage—.363, an 89th percentile mark in 2018 and an 87th percentile mark among his age-20 peers.
Young’s strong isolated power last season (.160 ISO) speaks to his ability to accumulate extra-base hits—the mark ranked in the 73rd percentile at Class A last season and in the 78th percentile historically. For those who prefer slugging percentage as their power statistic, his .445 mark (85th percentile at Class A last season, 84th percentile among recent Class A age-20 batters) does not disappoint.
Now, since he hits as many doubles and triples as he does—6.1% of his 2018 plate appearances were doubles (91st percentile), while 1.7% were triples (96th percentile)—one might think that Young’s strong ISO is masking a lack of home run power. However, one would be wrong to think that, as Young showed plenty of over-the-wall pop in 2018—1.5% of his plate appearances were home runs (40th percentile), with 0.4% of them of the 400-plus-foot variety (56th percentile).
Bringing together each of these components
All told, Chavez Young’s contribution at the plate was 29% greater than the average Class A batter in 2018—his 129 wRC+ stands out compared to both last season’s Class A batters (86th percentile) and recent Class A batters in his age group (88th percentile). For the OPS crowd, his .808 mark ranked in the 87th percentile, whether compared to 2018 Class A batters or his age-20 peers.
One thing Young’s overall wRC+ doesn’t speak to is his performance batting from each side of the plate, a relevant consideration for any switch-hitter. In Young’s case, some scouts have expressed doubt about his ability to hit from the right side. On the other hand, Matt Young, Chavez Young’s hitting instructor at Lansing, seems confident he will develop into a fine right-handed hitter.
I certainly can’t say that I’ve watched enough of him in action to disagree with that, but I can say that in 2016 and 2017, he was much better as a RHH (.382 wOBA over 85 PA) than as a LHH (.322 wOBA over 292 PA).
In 2018, the situation flipped, as it often does season-to-season for switch-hitters. Nevertheless, he performed relatively well regardless which one of his hands was higher on his bat.
Across Class A last season, 95 batters made at least 100 PA from the right side of the plate against a left-handed pitcher, including both pure-righties and switch-hitters. Young’s .313 wOBA put him in the 51st percentile among this group, so clearly he wasn’t particularly bad as a righty. And, to be clear, this was during a relatively poor season as a RHH for his standards. From the right, Young showed plenty of pop (.154 ISO, 65th percentile), but struggled with getting on-base (.306 OBP, 38th percentile).
Among 20 switch-hitters with at least 100 PA from the right side against lefty pitchers, Young’s right-handed hitting actually stands out quite positively, with his wOBA ranking in the 74th percentile, his ISO ranking in the 89th percentile and his OBP roughly average (47th percentile). I certainly hope that Young continues to work on his hitting from the right side. But it would be incorrect to say he performed poorly in 2018 as a right-handed hitter.
No such concerns exist with respect to his abilities as a left-handed hitter. 185 Class A batters made at least 100 PA from the left side of the plate against right-handed pitchers in 2018, including both pure-lefties and switch-hitters. Young’s impressive .367 wOBA as a LHH ranks in the 83th percentile among them. He stands out both in terms of getting on-base (.385 OBP, 87th percentile) and hitting for power (.162 ISO, 71st percentile).
Of these 185 batters, 50 are switch-hitters. Young rates just as well when compared to this group, in terms of wOBA (86th percentile), OBP (86th percentile) and ISO (86th percentile). Surprisingly, those three identical percentiles are not typos, just a fun coincidence.
Batted Ball Profile
As a guy who hit a double or triple in 7.8% of his plate appearances, a feat surpassed by only three Class A batters last season, it’s no surprise to learn that Young produces line drives more often than most (21.1% LD rate, 68th percentile). On the other hand, thanks to an excessive number of grounders (49% GB rate, 18th percentile) and relatively few fly balls (29.9% FB rate, 11th percentile), Young produced one of the poorer GB/FB at Class A last season (1.64, 15th percentile).
The contrast of his poor GB/FB with his only slightly below-average home run rate and slightly above-average 400-plus-foot homer rate is interesting. The upside of this is that, if he were to generate more loft on his swing, he might be able to further increase his already decent home run numbers. That said, he’d continue to be plenty valuable if he remained a line-drive hitting, doubles and triples machine.
Beyond his abilities at the plate, Young has generated plenty of value as a base runner. His speed score (Spd) is a good reflection of this—his 8.5 Spd ranks in the 98th percentile among 2018 Class A batters and in the 97th percentile among recent age-20 Class A batters. [Stat note: While Spd has been replaced by base running runs (BsR) at the major league level, limited data necessitates its use when examining minor league base running performances. For what it’s worth, Spd and BsR are at least somewhat correlated (R2 of 0.48 for qualified MLB batters in 2018).]
One aspect of BsR, weighted stolen base runs (wSB), is made available on FanGraphs at the minor league level. It, too, suggests that Young generates plenty of value as a base runner—his 3.4 wSB ranked in the 97th percentile among Class A batters last season and in the 95th percentile among recent age-20 Class A batters. The kid clearly has speed and, just as importantly, knows how to use it.
If the quality batter/base runner I just described happened to be a defender with limited value—perhaps a weak infielder or an average corner outfielder—he’d still have paths to the major leagues. Chavez Young, however, does not have limited defensive value—he is a very effective center fielder, a plus-defender at a premium position.
According to Clay Davenport’s data, Young produced eight fielding runs above average (FRAA) over 50 games at centre field in 2017 while playing for Bluefield in the Advanced Rookie level Appalachian League. That was the second-highest mark in his league that year.
In 2018, playing for Lansing in the Class A Midwest League, Young produced 13 FRAA over 50 games at centre field. That, too, was the second-highest mark in his league. Clearly, this kid can field well, at a key position.
Over the last three years, the Toronto Blue Jays have made meaningful efforts to acquire and develop overperformers, defined by Mark Shapiro as “high-character, tough, resilient and good teammates”. Chavez Young has the makings of an overperformer.
“Hugely charismatic guy who was terrific in the clubhouse, highly outgoing.” -Jesse Goldberg-Strassler
“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!!” -Young’s prep coach in Georgia
“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.” -Chavez Young
Evidence of that hard work is in the numbers. He has made a lot of progress with his plate discipline since his time with rookie-ball Bluefield in 2017, more than doubling his walk-to strikeout ratio from 0.22 to 0.58. He cut his strikeout rate (from 20.6% to 18.6%) and whiff rate (from 14.3% to 10.6%) and increased his walk rate (from 4.6% to 10.8%), all while maintaining his power and contact game—his ISO (.159 and .160) and BABIP (.345 and .344) barely budged between 2017 and 2018.
He even showed progress with his defence—increasing his fielding runs above average to thirteen from an already very good eight—and base running—increasing both his speed score (from 6.6 to 8.5) and his weighted stolen base runs (from -1.4 to 3.4).
This is a good kid, whose dedication to becoming the best baseball player he can be will help him reach his ceiling and become an everyday major league centre fielder.
Let’s recap who Chavez Young is. He’s a strong, balanced hitter. He produced singles more often than most Class A batters last season (15.6% of his PA, 57th percentile among batters with 300 PA), doubles more often than most (6.1%, 91st percentile) and triples more often than most (1.7%, 96th percentile). While he hit homers at a slightly below-average rate (1.5%, 40th percentile), he did manage to hit 400-foot-plus homers more often than most (0.4%, 56th percentile), pointing to further untapped power (as do his high GB% and low FB%). He also walked more often than most (10.8%, 83rd percentile) and struck out less often than most (18.6%, 73rd percentile), a reflection of his sharp plate discipline.
He was a better base runner than most, both in general (8.5 Spd, 98th percentile) and specifically in terms of stealing bases (3.4 wSB, 97th percentile). He was also a much better centre fielder than most (13 FRAA, second-best), a position that is more valuable than most on a baseball diamond. And, to top it all off, he appears to be a fantastic human being, who is extremely motivated to succeed as a professional baseball player. In my opinion, he’s not only the kind of player that’s easy to root for, he’s the kind of player you’d be foolish not to root for.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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