Name: Matt Chapman
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 205
How Acquired: Selected by the A’s in the first round of the 2014 draft
During the off-season, the Oakland A’s said good-bye to a power-hitting third baseman with a plus glove. While they have replaced Josh Donaldson with an established major league veteran (Brett Lawrie) for 2015, the A’s long-term answer at third base may be in their minor league system. Will 2014 first-round pick Matt Chapman eventually give the A’s similar production to what they received from Donaldson?
After a standout career at El Toro High School in Southern California, Chapman joined the Cal-State Fullerton team in 2012. He appeared in 53 games as a freshman and held his own, hitting .286. As a sophomore, Chapman continued to hit for average (.285) and he raised his on-base percentage more than 60 points (.327 to .388). That off-season Chapman was part of the Team USA Collegiate National squad that went 20-3 for the summer. He was a big part of Team USA’s success offensively and he played well at third. Chapman also got two appearances on the mound, his only two pitching appearances during his collegiate career.
Coming into his junior season, Chapman was on the radar as a potential top-two round pick. He cemented that status by hitting .312/.382/.498 for the Titans. Chapman also finished the year as one of the top defensive players in Division I NCAA baseball. He earned the third base spot on the Rawlings Gold Glove team.
"Matt Chapman is an exciting package of tools." - Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens.
It wasn’t Chapman’s work at Fullerton that firmly cemented the A’s decision to take him with the 25th overall pick, however. The A’s had him on their list of candidates, but it was when he came into the Coliseum and put on a show during a pre-draft workout that the A’s were sold.
“I first had an opportunity [to see Chapman] during the lead-up to the draft,” former Oakland A’s minor league hitting coordinator and current A’s assistant hitting coach Marcus Jensen said. “Before we even drafted him, he came in for a tryout. It was a pretty impressive tryout. He actually came in the day after a group of guys. Comparing him to the number of guys we had in the day before, he really stood out.
“That was my first look at him. Then we selected him and we were high on him based on our reports and then the tryout certainly made an impression, as well. He has a lot of physicality. A lot of tools, which we were all excited about.”
After the draft, Chapman made his professional debut in the Arizona Rookie League. He collected six hits in 14 at-bats before being promoted to Low-A Beloit. He was the first position player from the A’s 2014 draft class to make it to a full-season league.
The numbers weren’t pretty for Chapman with the Beloit Snappers. In 190 at-bats, Chapman hit .237/.262/.389 with five homers and an ugly 46:7 K:BB. The Midwest League isn’t the most friendly league to hitters, but Chapman got to miss all of the inclement, early-season weather that makes it especially tough. Despite the rough statline, the A’s weren’t too concerned about Chapman’s results with Beloit.
“[I]t’s just transitioning into pro ball and understanding who he is and not necessarily conforming to the hitter that he had to be in college,” Jensen said towards the tail-end of the season. “That’s going to be a process and a challenge to find out who he can be [in the pros]. He has all of these tools and all of these weapons. Now it is just a matter of what works for him.”
The A’s gave Chapman a vote of confidence when they sent him to Double-A Midland for the post-season to replace the injured Jefry Marte. At the time of the promotion, Beloit manager Rick Magnante said that he wouldn’t be at all surprised if Chapman hit the Texas League well despite his struggles in the Midwest League. Magnante was spot-on with his prediction. Chapman was a big factor in the RockHounds’ run through the Texas League playoffs.
During the Texas League post-season, Chapman hit .310/.375/.568 with two homers in eight games. He also played an outstanding third base. MiLB.com named Chapman the Texas League’s Top Post-season Hitter. 2014 Midland manager and current A’s MiLB Field Coordinator Aaron Nieckula had just a few weeks with Chapman last season, but he came away thoroughly impressed.
“You go to the old saying that you never have a second chance to make a first impression,” Nieckula said. “Let me tell you, this kid came in and not only did he perform well on the field, but this young man also fit in like he was there all year. Very mature, very respectful. He fit into the clubhouse group. They embraced him right away as one of the guys. This kid has a very bright future ahead of him. He was our Team MVP, I believe, in the playoffs. Came up with some big hits and some key defensive plays that don’t show up in the box score but show up in the internal game reports we write each night.
”He was just fun to watch. All of the guys on that team – from A to Z – were fun to watch. They did their job. Matt was certainly part of that.”
Longtime A’s scout and instructor Rich Sparks worked with Chapman while he was in Beloit and then again during the A’s fall Instructional League. Sparks indicated that Chapman felt more comfortable against more advanced pitching.
“I’ll tell you, the one thing that Chap has, he comes out of college and goes to the Midwest League and the one thing he and I talked about – because I was with him in the Midwest League and he went to the Texas League – I said, ‘tell me the difference’ and he said, ‘the difference is the strike-zone. These pitchers can throw it in the strike-zone,’” Sparks said, “You don’t know where it is going sometimes in the Midwest League. The pitchers are better and more polished [in the Texas League] and he actually did well there. He expanded his ‘zone a little bit in Beloit, probably just because of that, but once he got to the Texas League, he worked on staying on the ball and driving the ball where it was pitched.
“Up-and-away was his downfall. He’s got power to that other side, but the timing aspect of it and not knowing where the pitches were going was a challenge. These pitchers in the Midwest League there are a lot of throwers. That’s what he said. There are a lot of hard-throwers in the Midwest League, but they don’t always know where it is going. He improved his approach in the Texas League and maybe nobody had a book on him and they would try to sneak things by him and it just didn’t work.”
Chapman’s poor K:BB rate in Beloit isn’t consistent with the kind of hitter he was in college. In three years at Fullerton, he walked 73 times while striking out just 84 times in 162 games. The A’s believe that Chapman’s plate discipline is actually a strength of his and that he will eventually be a player who gets on-base consistently as a pro. The A’s also believe that Chapman will be a power hitter as a pro. He didn’t hit for a lot of power in college (13 homers in his career), but he has shown the ability to drive the ball well out of the park to all fields in batting practice. That power showed itself on occasion during his pro debut, as well. Chapman projects to be a hitter who can hit for decent average, get on-base and be in that 20-30 homerun range if he reaches his ceiling.
Of course, offensive potential is only half of what Chapman brings to the table. The A’s believe that Chapman has the ability to be a special defensive player at third, a player who can continue the tradition in Oakland of stalwart defense at third started by Sal Bando and continued by Carney Lansford, Eric Chavez and Donaldson. Chapman’s arm is his best physical tool and rates as an 8 on the scouting scale. He has plus arm strength and he was clocked as high as 98 MPH during his brief stint on the mound for Team USA in 2013. Chapman is also an excellent athlete with good hands, quick feet and solid baseball instincts. Even though he has only half of a season in professional baseball, he is already one of the top defensive infielders in the A’s system.
A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens is looking forward to seeing what is next for Chapman.
“Matt Chapman is an exciting package of tools,” Owens said. “He may have the best throwing arm I have scouted from a position player standpoint. They have a scouting scale of 2-to-8, present-to-future, and I put an 8-8 on his throwing arm. It’s that spectacular. It’s unreal. He’s got that going for him. He’s also an outstanding defender at third base. He has quality hands. He always controlled the ‘zone at Cal-State Fullerton. He had a spike in batting average his junior year, but in terms of plate discipline, it was always good.
“He played for Team USA last summer and we liked the make-up. We also like the power potential. He moves well at third base and even dabbled some at shortstop in college. The power is definitely there. He has a chance to be a thumper and play well above-average defense on the left side of the infield.”
With fellow top third base prospects Renato Nunez and Ryon Healy slated to start the season with Double-A Midland, Chapman is likely to begin the year with High-A Stockton. He could return to Midland by the end of the season if there is room on the RockHounds’ roster. Given his collegiate experience and his defensive prowess, Chapman could be major-league ready faster than most would anticipate after his Midwest League stint. He will turn 22 at the end of April.