Name: Brad Chalk
DOB: January 20, 1986
The 87th overall selection in the 2007 MLB Draft, Chalk got off to a slow start in his professional debut due to a back injury that sapped his strength. He hit .276 across two leagues with a .376 on-base percentage.
At instructs that year, he showed much more promise – driving balls with authority. The hope was he would carry it over into the year.
Unfortunately, the 2008 season didn't bear as much fruit as originally hoped. Chalk did not inflict the damage many expected he would. It is sort of ironic. The center fielder hit .365 with runners in scoring position this season, driving in 43 – mainly out of the leadoff or two-hole spot in the lineup. Damage, however, is viewed in terms of extra-base hits. He notched 22 such hits across 104 games this season – a number that did not meet expectations. After three months, he had just five doubles before hitting 10 in July and tapering off.
He ended the season with a .275 average. Perhaps the more telling stat came in the 39 runs he scored – not exactly leadoff man material. He also drew 46 walks compared to 55 strikeouts for a .354 on-base percentage.
Hitting coach Tom Tornicasa called for a .300 season when he moved up to the California League, and Chalk did not disappoint. The everyday center fielder hit .301 across 130 games for the Lake Elsinore Storm. He notched 35 extra-base hits, including 12 triples. He also notched 41 walks compared to 72 strikeouts for a .357 on-bas percentage.
Chalk was again impressive with runners in scoring position, hitting .374 and driving in 63 – 53 of those RBI coming out of the leadoff spot in the lineup. The speedy outfielder also scored 95 runs, sixth best in the California League.
His 12 triples tied him for eighth most in the entire minor leagues and his 33 stolen bases were fifth most in the league and second amongst prospects in the Padres system.
The Clemson alumnus' 82.2 wRC (weighted runs created) was the best mark on the squad but his .097 ISO was amongst the worst marks in the league thanks to a .398 slugging percentage.
Known as more of a slash hitter, Chalk paced the club and was tied for fourth in the league with 11 sacrifice bunts. He is an excellent bunter that will take advantage of fielders playing off the grass. With above-average speed, he can make them pay.
"This year, I think he saw what the added weight could do for his game at the plate," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He has really an unusual style at the plate, his lower half is never going to assist him at the plate, but we are attempting to change some parts of his swing in what he has done his whole career. Right now, the arrow is pointing up, he makes tremendous contact, has speed, plays a good center field, and did a good job of keeping the ball out of the air."
There are times when Chalk is unsure of what kind of hitter he is or wants to be. He will get anxious at the plate and turn pull happy rather than hitting the ball to where it is pitched. He has improved his ability to pull and drive balls on the inner half but that has also affected his ability to take balls on the outer edges the other way. He also closes his front shoulder off on pitches away, reducing his ability to drive the pitch. Whether that is protection against pitches on the inner half or not, he must work out the kink.
"Once in awhile he needs to be able to pull the inside fastball to right field, which he has been doing this year," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "If you can prove you can do that, they won't pound you inside as much. It forces them to pitch him more honest.
"You don't want to take him out of his game, putting the bat on the ball. He has a nice plane to his swing. He can bunt for a base hit, can run some and he has a good idea of when to run on the base paths. I think as he gets a little older and a little stronger, he's going to hit the gaps more."
Incorporated his legs more into his swing and foundation has been something that Chalk has worked on without much success. He has a rocking motion to his load and release, providing timing but not giving him the additional torque his body naturally generates. Everything, therefore, has to come from his hands and upper half. He has worked on getting more separation. There are times when his bat wavers just as he begins his release towards the ball, making his bat a moving target that doesn't offer as much consistency through the hitting zone.
"We've got to get him to drive the ball a little better, and he's been doing that," former Lake Elsinore hitting coach Shane Spencer said. "He's been driving the ball to right center and centerfield a little better.
"He still comes off the ball on the pitch away, but he has the speed to beat it out, if he hit's the choppers to short. But we don't want that. Because he can run and if he hit's the ball through the gap it's a triple, so if you're on second or third on behind him, you've got a chance to drive in a run. So we've really been trying to get him to drive the ball, stay behind the ball and he's been doing a much better job. He's been tight when he comes out of his stance. But he's been working on it. He's just a good kid; easy to work with."
Chalk does know how to keep the ball out of the air to use his plus speed as an asset. Routine grounders are bang-bang plays that infielders can't sleep on. He has good plate awareness but is also prone to bouts of inconsistency, chasing pitches outside of the zone.
"He's got speed," Lezcano said. "He can bunt very well. He just needs to work on keeping the ball out of the air and on his mechanics. His back foot leaves the ground when he swings at the ball. He just needs to hit the ball more on the ground, which would be more important than pulling the ball right now. Then with his speed he can get a little more hits."
The South Carolina native must, however, get stronger physically to really keep defenders honest. Along with driving more balls into the gaps and up the middle of the field, Chalk's physical strength will play a role. Right now, outfielders can play him in without fear of balls going over their head. The infield will do the same thing to shorten the field.
Chalk stole 17 straight bases before getting caught stealing and ended the year with an 80 percent success rate. He is very smart on the base paths and picks his running spots well. He got a bit more aggressive in the second half and got nabbed a few times but that was a learning experience. The trials made him better suited to pick up on a pitcher's move and quickness to the plate. He can be a guy that routinely steals 30 bases or more.
Defensively, Chalk is a plus defender that combines agility and preparation. He positions himself well and has a quick first-step in ball recognition. Rarely does he take extra steps to corral a ball in the gap and his coverage area allows for sub par corner outfielders to cheat towards the line. He does not have trouble on balls over his head and tracks them extremely well. Lacking arm strength, Chalk relies on accuracy to thwart a running game.
"Its been coming along the last two years," Spencer said. "He's always the guy who can run. He's a good outfielder, good base stealer, guys are playing him in. Defense is better."
"He was very durable," Lezcano said. "He played almost 130-some games. He played center, played left."
"He's another guy that needs to continue to get bigger and more physical and has only touched where he needs to be," Fuson said. "I let him know that he doesn't even need to show up to spring training unless he is coming in around 190."
Conclusion: Being a plus defender, Chalk must continue to refine his approach at the plate. He does the little things well and is a clutch performer, making him an asset in that regard. Pitch selection has to improve for him to reach his goal, as does his ability to hit the gaps with regularity. Center field is no longer a spot for a speedster – they must offer extra-base hit potential. If he can get stronger and work on his hitting mechanics, Chalk can reach his full potential.
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