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Chapman is a star on the rise for surging A's

Third baseman could be best defender in baseball
MLB.com @RichardJustice

A's third baseman Matt Chapman was positioned toward the middle of the left side of the infield, about where the shortstop would set up in a normal alignment, in a game earlier this month.

He was the only defender on that side of second base, so when Toronto's Yangervis Solarte slapped a slow bouncer off the end of his bat down the third-base line, the shift had been beaten. Only it hadn't. Go ahead and watch the video at the top of this story of what happens next. Then watch it a time or two more.

A's third baseman Matt Chapman was positioned toward the middle of the left side of the infield, about where the shortstop would set up in a normal alignment, in a game earlier this month.

He was the only defender on that side of second base, so when Toronto's Yangervis Solarte slapped a slow bouncer off the end of his bat down the third-base line, the shift had been beaten. Only it hadn't. Go ahead and watch the video at the top of this story of what happens next. Then watch it a time or two more.

Days earlier, Chapman had similarly robbed Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre of a hit by diving toward the third-base line to glove a hard grounder before hopping up and making a laser throw across the diamond.

Video: OAK@TEX: Chapman takes hit away from Beltre in 3rd

Nothing anyone will write or say about Chapman can explain his defensive greatness better than plays like these, plays so good you want to watch them again and again.

Yes, he just might be the single best defensive player in the game regardless of position. (His 26 Defensive Runs Saved are eight more than Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain, the next closest player.) Chapman also led the Majors in the SABR Defensive Index in the first half (17.2), finishing far in front of Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (10.7) and Royals outfielder Alex Gordon (10.6). Chapman is plenty good offensively, too. Dynamic really, on his way to, say, 30 doubles, 20 home runs, 60 walks and an on-base percentage north of .350 in his first full season in the Major Leagues.

But the totality of his game is why he's going to be on everyone's American League MVP checklist. His 4.9 WAR is sixth-highest in the AL, far behind Mike Trout's 7.6, but in the conversation.

And he's:

• 13th in wRC+ (135).

• 15th in wOBA (.366).

• 18th in OPS (.850).

Per Statcast™, Chapman's 92.8-mph average exit velocity is ninth-highest in the Majors. Again, it's his defensive game that elevates him from very good to elite. Asked about Chapman's defense, A's manager Bob Melvin said:

"It's about as good as it gets. It's about as good as I've seen. You see it from the minute you watch him play."

Video: OAK@TEX: Chapman smashes A's hardest-hit HR since '15

Melvin has seen the whole range of Chapman's greatness this season, from scooping up bunts down the third-base line (sorry, Dee Gordon) to going back into left field to make plays.

Video: OAK@SEA: Chapman's 76.5 mph throw retires Gordon

To, finally, going to his right, into foul territory and firing a strike across the mound.

When Chapman made the play on Solarte, the television play-by-play went like this:

"Are you absolutely kidding me?

"Stop it right now, Matt Chapman!

"That is otherworldly."

In an intersection of future star third basemen, Chapman was Nolan Arenado's backup shortstop at El Toro High in Orange County.

"It's funny, he's probably better than me now," Arenado said.

Not so fast.

"I want to do what he's done," Chapman said of the five-time Gold Glove Award winner.

That 24 teams passed on Chapman in the 2014 Draft is one of those quirks that has sent scouting directors and general managers back to read over reports and see what they missed.

What the A's saw then -- and what his teammates see now -- is a tenacious competitor with a relentless work ethic. He spends hours each day honing his swing, reading scouting reports and studying video.

Since early July, when Chapman returned from a two-week stay on the disabled list with a thumb contusion, he has 10 doubles, three triples, five home runs and a .972 OPS in 30 games. Oakland is 22-8.

Video: OAK@TEX: Chapman shines in the field and at the plate

There is a laundry list of reasons why the Athletics have been baseball's winningest team since mid-June. To go 34-11 over a six-week stretch simply can't be about one thing or one player. And at the moment, the A's are a team without an apparent weakness.

Their rotation has been maybe baseball's biggest surprise. Their bullpen has been even better. And the A's on offense are a thing of beauty, hitting home runs, working counts, scoring runs in bunches.

Once 11 1/2 games behind the Astros in the AL West, Oakland began the weekend 4 1/2 back. In the AL Wild Card race, they've moved in front of the Mariners to take over the lead for the second berth.

Back to Chapman. The A's became a different team on June 15, 2017, when he made his Major League debut. With two young gifted anchors named Matt -- third baseman Chapman and first baseman Olson- -- the A's believed they had a pair of cornerstone players to build around.

They were 48-49 after Chapman's arrival last season (and 27-38 before), so this season's success isn't totally unexpected. A's executives Billy Beane and David Frost have worked furiously to upgrade the team, acquiring three veteran relievers -- Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelley and Fernando Rodney -- to give Oakland the look of a postseason team.

If the A's do make their first postseason appearance in four years, baseball fans from coast to coast will find out for themselves why the buzz around Chapman has grown so loud.

"He always seems to have that edge to him," Melvin said.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Oakland Athletics, Matt Chapman