A spring training knee injury got Matt Chapman’s 2015 season off to a slow start, but he has quickly made up for lost time with the High-A Stockton Ports. Despite not making his season debut until May 7, Chapman leads all Oakland A’s minor leaguers with 14 homeruns. Chapman ranks ninth in the Cal League in homers and seventh in slugging.
Chapman says it took him about 20 games after he returned from the injury to get back to into the flow, but that he now feels 100 percent and he isn’t thinking about the injury.
“It’s good to be feeling healthy again,” Chapman said last week. “Everything is still a work-in-progress. Everyone in the minor leagues is still trying to get better. I am starting to feel better. I definitely am used to playing everyday now and I am used to the routine. Now it’s a matter of just trying to get better and better. I’m not playing catch-up anymore.”
When the A’s took Chapman with the 25th overall pick in the 2014, they considered him a work-in-progress. The A’s witnessed Chapman’s prodigious power potential during a pre-draft workout at the Coliseum, but his approach in-game during his three years at Cal-State Fullerton was geared more towards hitting line-drives than driving the ball over the fence. Since he turned pro, Chapman’s focus has been on tapping into his natural power during games.
“In college, it was maybe more of a line-drive swing,” Chapman said. “Now they are trying to make me more of a third baseman-type hitter rather than a middle infielder.”
The homeruns have come in bunches for Chapman this season. He had four over a six-game stretch from May 31 to June 6 and six over an 11-game stretch from June 19 to July 3rd. Chapman says that while he has focused on learning to drive the ball more, he isn’t going into at-bats looking to go deep.
“You can’t really control it,” Chapman said. “It’s been that they have been coming in bunches or they don’t come at all. I honestly don’t try to do anything different. It’s just a matter of being on time and taking good swings. When it all works out, that [a homerun] is the end result. It’s just a matter of trying to be a little more consistent.”
Consistency is something Chapman focuses on defensively, as well. Considered the premier defensive third baseman in the NCAA last season, Chapman has the potential to be a Gold Glove defender in the big leagues. He spends a lot of time before games and during the off-season focusing on his defense.
“I work on making sure I’m soft with my hands and making sure that I’m not too stiff and that I go get it, find a good hop, be soft with my hands and make a good throw,” Chapman said about his defensive work. “Once I’m in the game, it’s just reaction from there but you definitely try to put yourself in a good position – whether it is to play a guy to pull or to play back or if it is a guy that can bunt, try to read a guy’s body language. Definitely try to take into account all of the little things that can help you.”
Although Chapman hit only .237/.282/.389 in 50 games for Low-A Beloit last season, the A’s were confident enough in Chapman’s defense to promote him to Double-A Midland for the post-season after the RockHounds’ starting third baseman Jefry Marte went down with an injury. Chapman not only played flawless defense for the eventual Texas League champions, he also hit .310/.375/.586 with two homers and two doubles in eight playoff games. He earned the RockHounds’ post-season MVP award for his efforts.
His post-season run with Midland wasn’t the first time Chapman raised his game in a high-profile situation. During the summer of 2013, Chapman was a member of the Team USA national collegiate squad that went 20-3. On a roster filled with top young talents such as Kyle Schwarber, Brandon Finnegan, Carlos Rodon, Michael Conforto, Trea Turner, Alex Bregman and Bradley Zimmerman, Chapman distinguished himself as a rising star, hitting .278 with 20 RBI in 23 games. He says that that summer was key to his growth as a player.
“I think [being on Team USA] raised my confidence because I had never really gotten too much recognition before that and to be put on a team like that with that caliber of players just filled with studs was huge,” Chapman said. “To be on a team like that can only make you feel better about yourself as a player. It was a great experience. I definitely became a better baseball player. It pushed me forward going into the draft.”
Chapman says his time with the RockHounds last year was equally invaluable.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “I just wanted to go up there and blend in and not mess up anything that they had going. It was kind of a culture shock because I was only 21 at the time and there were dudes in there who were 28 or 30 years old and have a lot more experience than me. I tried to learn from them and go in and my only goal was to help the team. That really worked out.”
Chapman says that the fact he had played fewer games during the regular season than most players participating in the Texas League playoffs and that he was a newcomer to the league likely helped him during the post-season.
“I think maybe I was a little more fresh than some of the guys there and them not knowing me and being lower in the line-up and getting pitches to hit,” Chapman said of his post-season success. “I think a lot of things fell into place. I was just grateful to be there and grateful for the experience.”
Chapman hopes to repeat his post-season experience with the Ports this year. He says his goal for the second-half is squarely focused on getting another ring.
“We just want to keep this thing going,” Chapman said. “We have been playing really well lately and I just want to keep that up and continue to help the team win. I hope we can make the playoffs because we have a great group of guys.”