If you pay attention to the Oakland Athletics, which, let’s face it, these days is unlikely, you may have heard of minor league third baseman Matt Chapman.
Even fewer of you have likely seen him play. Watching him play tells you all you need to know. He could, very easily, be the A’s next Eric Chavez. If he stays healthy there’s a good chance he’ll be even better.
Now, Chapman, 24, has been called up to the big leagues according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. He was not in the lineup on Wednesday for the A’s Triple-A affiliate Nashville Sounds and is expected to be in Oakland Thursday for their home game against the New York Yankees.
Chavez and Chapman have quite a few similarities. Both were first-round draft picks for Oakland in 1996 and 2014 respectively. Chavez was drafted out of high school and Chapman out of Cal State Fullerton, but both were known for the incredible defensive skills at the hot corner, along with their tremendous raw power.
Sure, they both had a little swing and miss in their game, the way most power hitters do, especially while they’re still developing, but their strikeout numbers never really could overshadow their other skills.
Chavez was one of the Athletics’ premiere and longest-tenured players in franchise history. He debuted in 1998, exceeded his rookie limits in 1999, but really played his first full season in 2000.
Chavez played 13 seasons for the Oakland Athletics and won six consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 2001-2006 — that’s right, SIX. He hit a career high 34 home runs during the A’s epic 2002 season and won a Silver Slugger Award. He collected over 100 RBI in four separate seasons.
Those may seem like numbers that could be virtually impossible to top, but many believe that Chapman could be the one to do it.
Chapman’s power and offensive abilities have always been obvious. He had a great rookie campaign in 2014, but was hindered by two injuries in 2015. The first was a sprained knee and later in the year a wrist injury.
Still, despite his injuries during the 2015 season, Chapman ended the year with more home runs (23) than anyone else in the Athletics’ farm system. He also contributed 57 RBI, 21 doubles, and three triples to the High Class-A Stockton Ports in a mere 80 games.
He was even better during the 2016 season where he played the majority of the year with the Double-A Midland RockHounds with a late-season call-up to Triple-A Nashville.
As noted there is still some swing and miss in this game, but Chapman has the ability to make hard, line-drive contact using the entire field. The then-23-year-old Chapman played 117 games for the RockHounds, hitting.244/335/.521 along with 29 home runs and 83 RBI. He was named the Texas League’s Most Valuable Player for 2016.
After being promoted Chapman played in just 18 games with Triple-A Nashville, and despite hitting a very poor.197 in 18 games with Nashville, when Chapman did hit the ball, he’d hit it out of the yard. He added seven home runs and 13 RBI to his 2016 totals during his first short stint with the Sounds.
Taking his defense into account and into comparison to Chavez, it has been said that the A’s No. 4 prospect, according to MLBPipeline, may have the strongest arm in the minor leagues.
Prior to the beginning of this season, MLBPipeline‘s Jim Callis named Chapman as the third baseman to its all-defense team, mainly because of the strength of his arm, quick hands, and good range.
“Chapman stands out most for his cannon of an arm, which once delivered 98-mph fastballs during his brief stint as a pitcher with the U.S. college national team. Add in his good hands and range, and he makes routine plays with consistency and spectacular plays with regularity.”
That’s not to say that Chapman hasn’t ever made an error. He has already made seven this season. Still, he is considered to be future Gold Glove material, and after a bit more practice, even now at the Major League level, he should be able to be as good or better than Chavez was for Oakland.
At first the A’s were going to take it slowly with Chapman to give him more time to develop his defensive skills, given that he had missed so much time during the 2015 season. The skills are there, absolutely, but could use some finishing touches and definition. That is what the A’s are hoping he will be able to learn — except now, in the majors.
Given that the team is not going to be in playoff contention this season, it is the right time to lend the majority of the time on the field to the young group of prospects that the A’s have waiting in the wings.
It will only be a matter of time for Chapman to show the world that he is the A’s next Eric Chavez, and for Chapman that time starts Thursday night against the Yankees.
[Featured Image by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]