The Wingnuts’ season-opener was the first of, he hopes, fewer than 100 chances for first baseman Matt Chavez to prove that he is too advanced for independent baseball.
If Chavez spends the whole season with the Wingnuts, he’ll likely further perplex manager Pete Rose Jr., one of many in the organization who believe Chavez belongs in affiliated baseball.
Chavez made his first case on Friday with a two-run home run and a double in the Wingnuts’ 6-3 win over Salina at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Chavez, the American Association’s reigning rookie of the year, batted .359 with 16 home runs in 68 games for the Wingnuts last season. Not quite enough to get him back to affiliated ball but plenty for many to wonder what he’s still doing in Wichita.
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“I’ve had to work on some things,” the 28-year-old Chavez said. “A few of them were on defense, and I’ve since made some really good improvements over there, I feel really good. At this point, I feel like I’m big-league ready, and anybody who wants to take me, I’m ready to go.”
The Wingnuts didn’t dominate Salina, which moved up from the Pecos League to replace Laredo, which folded this spring. But two run-scoring innings – the first keyed by Chavez – was enough for a 1-0 start.
With two outs and Brent Clevlen on third base in the third inning, Chavez, a 6-foot-3 right-handed hitter, hit an opposite field blast that landed on McLean Boulevard on the fly and bounced near the Arkansas river flowing behind.
Two innings later, Chavez went toward right field again with a double to the gap.
“It’s impressive to see it anywhere, what he does on a daily basis,” Rose said. “He can hit the screen in (batting practice) in center field at will. It’s just a gift. The guy can flat-out hit, and you just scratch your head on why he’s still here.
“It puzzles me why a young kid like him with that gorilla (power) didn’t get picked up this offseason. It’s just amazing. But he’s got a great head on his shoulders – he’s here to work, he’s here to get better.”
Chavez played parts of two seasons in affiliated ball, one with the Padres organization and one in the San Francisco Giants system. During his most recent foray, 2015, he batted .293 in 15 games in High Class-A.
He is a work in progress on defense and may struggle with upper-tier fastballs and off-speed pitches, even though he’s eager to try.
“I just see it as an opportunity to get better,” Chavez said. “Take each day and work on things. Some people are lucky enough that they don’t have any bumps, but I’m just working through all of them. I see it as I’m still going to make it no matter what anybody tells me.”