TEMPE, Ariz. – The praise has come from all directions for Matt Chapman, as the A’s third base prospect has put on a head-turning performance in his first big league spring camp.
His power has been on display with four home runs, tied for the team lead entering Tuesday. He has also impressed with his glove and throwing arm, displaying the all-around tools that make it obvious why the A’s plucked him 25th overall in the 2014 draft.
“He played a lot of shortstop (growing up). He could actually probably play shortstop if you need him to, and be fine over there,” said A’s Triple-A hitting coach Eric Martins. “But he’s gonna be special at third base.”
Martins would know, having been the area scout who signed Chapman out of Cal State Fullerton in 2014. He’s actually known Chapman since he was 12, having coached him in travel ball and other youth leagues in Southern California. He continued to follow Chapman’s career from El Toro High School and on to Fullerton.
“He’s always had that leverage in his swing,” Martins said. “You watch his home runs, they’re more on a line drive, so he’s got a good path to the zone. You could see how strong he is. Now, he’s physically getting mature. He’s understanding his swing. He’s able to hit he ball out to any part of the ballpark, as we’ve seen.”
On the day Chapman was drafted, A’s scouting director Eric Kubota said his skill set reminded him of Josh Donaldson, who was still playing third base for Oakland at the time.
“When I wake up at 3 in the morning in the middle of a dream, that’s what I envision,” Kubota quipped.
He wasn’t trying to heap unfair pressure on the now 22-year-old Chapman, but that comparison remains among members of the A’s staff.
“He had such a big arm,” said A’s director of player development Keith Lieppman. “You don’t (often) see the easy, effortless throws like he makes. It’s kind of like Donaldson. If you wanna put a ‘comp’ on him, that would be a good one.”
But it wasn’t a slam dunk Chapman would land in green and gold as the 2014 draft approached. Because he was playing in the NCAA Regionals with Cal State Fullerton, Chapman couldn’t attend a pre-draft workout the A’s hosted for select prospects at the Coliseum. And though everyone in Oakland’s front office really liked Chapman as a player, there was split opinion on whether his power would translate to pro ball.
The Titans were eliminated from the Regionals in Oklahoma City on June 2, a Monday, and the draft was set to begin that Thursday. Kubota asked Martins if he thought Chapman would be willing to fly to Oakland for a private workout that Tuesday.
“I called his Dad, and the first thing his Dad said was, ‘He’ll be on the flight out there tomorrow,’” Martins said.
Chapman caught a redeye from Oklahoma City back home to Southern California on Monday night. On Tuesday morning, he flew up to Oakland, with Martins waiting for him at the airport. They buzzed over to the Coliseum, and Chapman proceeded to put on a show in a workout attended by Billy Beane and the A’s other top front office officials.
Martins said he was so nervous for Chapman that he didn’t even want to throw batting practice to his longtime pupil.
“He didn’t bring a bat, so we just grabbed a bat out of the bin,” Martins said. “It was an old Josh Reddick bat. (Chapman) still has that bat.”
Now taking part in his first big league camp, Chapman is still around as the A’s other high-profile prospects have been sent over to the minor league facility. He’ll likely be ticketed for Double-A Midland when the season begins, but Chapman is showing the potential of a player who could move quickly through the system.
“You never know what to expect coming into spring training,” Chapman said recently. “I really didn’t know what to expect. It’s just been a real honor to play as much as I can and have an opportunity to contribute.”