For Chapman, 'every game' will feel like playoffs

July 9th, 2020

OAKLAND -- While other A’s players provided a glimpse of their workouts through social media during the baseball shutdown, kept a low profile. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t working.

Instead of coming home to California following the sudden end to Spring Training in March, Chapman decided to remain in Arizona. He found a training partner in fellow teammate Ramón Laureano. The two established a home base for workouts and hitting drills at batting cages run by former A’s prospect J.P. Sportman at a nearby facility in Scottsdale.

“I was off the grid a little bit,” Chapman said before Thursday’s workout at the Oakland Coliseum. “I was in Arizona when everything shut down and kind of just hung tight out there. I guess we were all kind of assuming baseball would come back a little faster than it did. Just stayed out there and kept training.”

After hearing of other teammates who were stuck back in their hometowns without a place to train regularly, Chapman felt fortunate to find a spot where he could stay ready. From tee work to live batting practice, Chapman took advantage of whatever was available to him. He even set up a makeshift gym in his home, complete with free weights and stretching bands.

The only aspect of his game Chapman had to neglect was defense. This was not by choice, there just wasn’t much of an opportunity to take ground balls anywhere. But for a premium defender like Chapman who has earned a Gold and Platinum Glove Award in each of the past two seasons, it shouldn’t take too long into Summer Camp to get that part up to speed.

“I think, for me, defense is something I wasn’t too worried about,” Chapman said. “Knowing I would have over two weeks to take ground balls and get ready, I feel comfortable with that.”

The process to sharpen up his tools has already begun now that the A’s have all of their position players in camp. The same focus Chapman had in Spring Training remains. He’s looking to clean up his swing in order to combat struggles with elevated fastballs and offspeed pitches that popped up at times during an All-Star 2019 campaign. But the 40-homer target and other personal goals Chapman originally set for himself will be put aside for this season.

Instead, Chapman is making sure to express to his teammates the importance of avoiding a slow start, something the A’s have done the last two years before going on second-half tears to reach the postseason. This becomes even more imperative during a shortened 60-game regular season for a club that entered Spring Training with high expectations to compete for a World Series.

“Win as much as we can and press getting off to a good start. That’s extremely important now,” Chapman said. “That was our focus coming out of Spring Training, but especially now. You can win and lose a season in two weeks with this schedule. It’s exciting because every game seems like it’ll be a playoff game.”

Leading Chapman to believe a quick start might be in the cards is the state of the A’s pitching staff. While it might take the defense and hitting a bit more time to get settled in, Chapman believes A’s pitchers might be ready for the season to begin now based on what he’s seen during live batting practices and simulated games.

“Our pitchers look really good. I’ve faced [A.J.] Puk, [Frankie] Montas and Liam [Hendriks], just to name a few, and everybody looks sharp,” Chapman said. “They’re throwing hard and throwing strikes. That’s exciting in itself. I know that the at-bats will get more serious as we go along, but right now guys are trying to get their eyes adjusted again and their timing. It’s really good to see how far our pitchers are along already.”

When asked how the club sets up for the sprint of the shortened regular season, Chapman pointed to the hunger of several young players on the team, a group that not only includes himself but also the club’s top three prospects in Jesús Luzardo, Sean Murphy and Puk, as an attribute that will allow them to stay energized in a season that will have few off-days to spare.

“I think we’re set up really well. We have a lot of young guys on the team and I know that’s gonna play a big part,” Chapman said. “We seem to have a very good chance at keeping our guys healthy and we felt good coming into this year. Our young pitching is getting mature. Our pitching core is ready and I think they’re gonna all be fresh. Combine that with our defense and our lineup, I think we’re right there.”