C.J. Chatham: Red Sox Prospects
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23-year old shortstop C.J. Chatham enters the 2019 season as the ninth-ranked prospect in the Red Sox farm system. Originally taken in the 2016 amateur draft out of Florida Atlantic, injuries plagued the shortstop through the first two years of his minor league career. However, Chatham was healthy for the 2018 season and put together a solid year. The shortstop will probably start next year in High-A before quickly moving up to the AA Portland Sea Dogs.
Red Sox Prospects: C.J. Chatham
After injuries limited him to just seven games in 2017, Chatham appeared in 14 games with the Low-A Greenville Drive before playing his final 95 games of the season with the High-A Salem Red Sox. Between both levels, Chatham managed to post a .314/.350/.389 slash line with an accompanying 110 wRC+.
While his offensive production was solid, Chatham also showed the ability to play above average defense. Chatham, while larger than the typical middle infielder, has the ideal range and arm for the position, capable of making deep throws to first from any position at shortstop. Most of the Red Sox top infield prospects have serious defensive questions, but Chatham should be able to remain at shortstop for the duration of his career.
Additionally, he’s shown the ability to be a decent contact hitter, as evidenced by his .314 batting average. While he doesn’t walk as much as you’d like (more on that later), his strikeout rate is a solid 18.4%. Granted, this isn’t an elite number by any means, but it’s still pretty good in a league where strikeouts are becoming more and more common.
What To Work On
Unfortunately, there are quite a few holes in Chatham’s game at the moment. For one, the shortstop has absolutely no power. Throughout his 2018 season, Chatham hit just three home runs, two triples, and 20 doubles in 437 at-bats. This isn’t good, and his .069 isolated power is especially concerning.
If Chatham is going to make the majors with such limited power, he’ll need to learn how to get on base consistently. Unfortunately for Chatham, he struggled to draw walks. On the season, Chatham walked on just 5.1% of his plate appearances. This is a subpar rate for any type of player but could be the kiss of death for a guy who will only be effective if he’s getting on base.
Not to keep railing on the kid, but there is some more bad news. As previously mentioned, Chatham showed the ability to be a good contact hitter in 2018, posting a .314 average. However, that batting average was inflated by an unsustainably-high .379 BABIP. This is due to regress to the mean as his career goes on. Even if he makes the exact same type of contact, his luck will turn where the ball finds fielders instead of open areas. All this is to say that he’s not as good a contact hitter as his .314 batting average suggests.
While all the prospects above Chatham have at least a chance of being a starting major leaguer, it’s hard to imagine Chatham evolving into that role. While he’s only 23 and still has a lot of time to grow, he’ll need to overhaul a lot of his game to be a functioning major leaguer.
His lack of power and low walk rate are the biggest concerns, as he doesn’t project as someone capable of driving in a lot of runs or getting on base frequently. He’s not quite as good as his batting average suggests due to his unsustainably-high .379 BABIP.
That said, he’s still a solid enough contact hitter who doesn’t strike out all that often. As long as he keeps his strikeout rate down, he’ll never be an active liability at the plate, although he’ll never be a superstar hitter. Chatham is an athletic player with a promising glove, and as long as he can hit even a little bit he could make it as a major league bench piece.
As of now, Chatham has only played shortstop. However, he has the physical tools to learn third, second, and first. If the Red Sox really felt like it, they could probably try him in left field and see what happens. Chatham shouldn’t ever be a major league starter, but he offers the potential to be a serviceable utility bench piece a la Deven Marrero or Tzu-Wei Lin.