MESA, Ariz. -- Maybe what Matt Chapman needs is just a little more exposure. If the people who have watched the A's third baseman are to be believed, he has already reached elite status as a defender at the hot corner of the infield.Now all he needs is a little
MESA, Ariz. -- Maybe what Matt Chapman needs is just a little more exposure. If the people who have watched the A's third baseman are to be believed, he has already reached elite status as a defender at the hot corner of the infield.
Now all he needs is a little more time in the big leagues to show what he can do.
"It's about as good as it gets," manager Bob Melvin said. "It's about as good as I've seen."
A recent feature on ESPN.com spelled out the reasons why the A's will be an interesting team this season, and defense was one of those reasons. Citing an American League talent evaluator, the article claimed Chapman's abilities at third base are right up there with two of the best in baseball -- Gold Glovers Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado.
And Chapman's only 84 games into his Major League career.
"It means a lot," he said before the A's loss to the Rangers on Saturday. "To be compared to guys that I look up to, and consider the best, is an honor."
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Chapman and Arenado were Little League opponents and high school teammates while growing up in Lake Forest, Calif. Chapman, two years younger than Arenado, remembers just trying to keep up with Arenado, who was "head and shoulders" better than everyone else.
These days, Chapman may be only a tick behind his onetime teammate.
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According to FanGraphs, Chapman's 19 defensive runs saved ranked second only to Arenado (20) among all players who logged at least 50 innings at third base. Also, according to Statcast™, Chapman's average arm strength on "maximum effort" throws was clocked at 88 mph, which ranked second hardest last year among 23 third basemen who recorded at least five "max effort" throws.
"You see it from the minute you watch him play," Melvin said. "It usually takes a little while, maybe certain few plays a couple days in a row, but the minute you see the arm strength, the minute you see the range that he has over at third ... you see him on an everyday basis, and you know exactly why."
Chapman, who turns 25 on April 28, will enter his first full season with the A's, nearly four years after they nabbed him in the first round of the 2014 Draft. The Cal State Fullerton alum debuted last June and logged 14 homers and 40 RBIs over 84 games.
His task this year will be to improve offensively, including cutting down on the strikeouts -- he had 92 in 2017.
Not having to worry about much on the defensive side can help that process. One of the biggest challenges for a young player is to be able to compartmentalize struggles at the plate, and still come as close as possible to a flawless performance on the other side of the game.
For Chapman, defense is a good separator. As soon as he puts his glove on his left hand, the prior at-bat is over. Sometimes he'll wait a bit, carrying the glove on his right hand, if he needs to seethe a little bit longer about his plate appearance. But when the glove switches hands, the brain switches over.
"I learned in college a lot how to not carry a bad at-bat onto the field, or carry a bad defensive play to your at-bat," Chapman said.
Even this early in his career, Chapman has already built a reputation as a player who won't be having many bad defensive plays as his career progresses.
He intends to live up to the expectations.
"I do take a lot of pride in it," Chapman said. "In my opinion, it's probably the best part of my game. Obviously, you like to take pride in everything you do, but I think defense is something that I've always cared about. It's something that's special to me."
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.