Name: Matt Chapman
Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 210
How Acquired: Selected in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft
It was “a year of adjustments” for Matt Chapman, and yet Chapman managed to win the Texas League’s Player of the Year award and climb up the prospect rankings all the same. Can Chapman improve over his 2016 production, or will his contact issues put a cap on his overall offensive ceiling?
Coming out of college, Chapman was known more for his powerful throwing arm than his thunderous bat. The Cal-State, Fullerton star hit only 13 homeruns in 580 at-bats over three seasons, a decent but not spectacular total. Chapman did an excellent job of reaching base, posting a .414 OBP over his final two seasons in college, and he was widely considered the top defensive third baseman in the NCAA at the time of the 2014 MLB Draft. The A’s loved Chapman’s approach at the plate and his defensive abilities, but they also saw untapped power potential that they felt would play at the professional level with some adjustments to his swing.
Three years and several adjustments later, Chapman’s profile is very much in-line with what the A’s envisioned on draft day. He is unarguably one of the top defensive third basemen in the minor leagues and might already be the best defensive infielder in the A’s organization – big league roster included. Chapman is also one of the top power hitters in the minor leagues, having connected on 59 homeruns in 215 games over the past two seasons. Chapman has done a decent job of working the count, walking 107 times over that same two-year stretch.
The last element that has yet to come together for Chapman is his ability to make consistent contact. In college, Chapman utilized an opposite-field approach that was designed more for protecting against strike-outs than swinging for the fences. While Chapman still goes the other way frequently, he does so with the idea of reaching or clearing the fences. That approach has allowed him to maximize his power potential, but it has also led to a lot more swing-and-miss. With Fullerton, Chapman struck-out 84 times in 162 games. Since turning pro, Chapman has 299 strike-outs in 269 games played.
Ideally, Chapman will be able to find a way to bring back some of his contact-oriented approach from college without losing the power he has demonstrated as a pro. Realistically, Chapman isn’t likely to ever hit for a high average as a big leaguer, but he will need to improve his contact rate to give himself a chance to be productive in the big leagues. One only has to look at Joey Gallo as a cautionary tale about big power-big strike-out hitters in the minor leagues struggling in the big leagues. Gallo has a career .587 SLG in the minor leagues, but his contact-issues have been exploited in the big leagues, where he has a .368 SLG in 53 games.
A’s minor league hitting coach Eric Martins was Chapman’s signing scout and has worked with Chapman on his swing. Martins believes that the key for Chapman to increase his contact rate is a matter of timing.
“Matt, he’s freakishly strong and athletic. He’s going to get away with some bad swings here and there because he is so freakishly strong. The biggest thing for him is getting some consistent rhythm,” Martins said. “He’s kind of a stagnant hitter, and he needs a little rhythm and separation. We tried some things with him while being careful not to take away from his power. When a hitter is finding rhythm, he really has to feel it rather than it being forced. He needs to find some rhythm and separation without it feeling unnatural for him.
“We worked on some things last off-season. He had a little bit of a leg kick and it carried over into the spring, which he really liked, but then he lost his feel for it during the season. It kind of never came back. It was a year of adjustments for him. It’s really unbelievable when you look at his power numbers that it was a year of adjustments for him. He’s so good and he’s so strong that it’s just a matter of him finding that consistent separation and rhythm that’s going to take him to the next level. That will allow him put some more balls into play.”
A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman agrees with Martins’ assessment of Chapman’s swing.
“[Rhythm] is the only thing we see missing with his timing and approach. Everything else – the power, the opposite field power, the defense – are all there. His game is very, very close to exploding. He’s got it all going,” Lieppman said. “In terms of cutting down his strike-outs, fixing the rhythm and timing with his swing will allow him to get more walks, recognize pitches earlier and be able to combine all of these things into that major league player that we think he will be. Again, it’s just a work-in-progress. Understanding his aggressiveness level. There are pitches that he is chasing right now that he is going to learn to lay off of as he matures.”
If Chapman can find that rhythm, he has a chance to bring the A’s Khris Davis-like power production in the near future. Like Davis, Chapman has the power to reach the seats in any ballpark or climate, something Chapman proved in 2016 by hitting 29 homers in 117 games in the Texas League, which is a league that can be unfriendly to right-handed power hitters like Chapman who like to use the opposite field. Nearly 70% of the balls Chapman put into play last year were in the air. Chapman could also give the A’s a legitimate weapon against left-handed pitching, something they have lacked in their line-up the past few years. He posted a nearly 1100 OPS against southpaws last season.
Defensively, Chapman is ready for the big leagues now. He has the potential to be an anchor in the A’s infield for a generation, in much the same way Eric Chavez was a stabilizing force on the left side for many years. Chapman has as close to an 80-grade arm as any player will ever receive. He is a good athlete with soft hands and the mobility to make plays both to the glove side and the arm side. Chapman played a little bit of shortstop last season and could probably be an asset at that position, as well.
“He’s a gifted defender. He’s got like Velcro in his glove. He can throw from any angle. If Jerry West was the logo for basketball, then Matt Chapman’s arm is probably the logo for third baseman,” A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said. “He’s got as good a throwing arm – and it’s so compact – as you will see. In my little scouting report, I call his arm the logo because it is that distinct. It comes out like a bazooka and it is a heat-seeking missile across the diamond, but he still has some touch. He can touch the ball up and throw from different angles. Watching him play defense is a pleasure.”
When the A’s decided to sign veteran Trevor Plouffe to play third base this off-season, they essentially bought at least a half a season for Chapman to continue to develop in Triple-A before they turned over the position to him. With Ryon Healy moving to a first base/DH role and Renato Nunez likely seeing more time in left field, Chapman is the clear in-house replacement for Plouffe. Because Chapman’s glove is so advanced, it may be tempting for the A’s to move him to the big leagues quickly, especially considering how poor the team’s infield defense has been the past three seasons. However, another half-year or year of development in Triple-A could give Chapman the time to shore up some of those timing issues at the plate. With the A’s not likely to compete for a title this season, there is no reason to rush Chapman before his bat is ready.
Given Chapman’s glove skills and his ability to hit left-handed pitching, his floor is still a major leaguer, but his ceiling is a Chavez-like impact offensively and defensively, so it is worth the time to let him develop.
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