On Tuesday, top prospect Matt Chapman played shortstop for the Double-A Midland RockHounds. After starting the game on the bench, the slugger entered in the 2nd inning to replace outfielder Danny Oh. There are a lot of ways that the Hounds could have adjusted their defensive alignment to put Chapman at his natural position of third base, but instead they stuck him at short. Grab your popcorn, because this is starting to get interesting.
This isn't the first time Chapman has played shortstop this season. In fact, it's the seventh time. The first came in April, when fellow infielder Wade Kirkland was called on to pitch in the 14th inning of a marathon contest, and normally you could chalk that up to the zaniness of extra-extra innings. He was only there for an inning, and he didn't have any balls hit toward him. But then, a week later, he got the start at short. A week after that, he made another start. He's now made five total starts, including two in a three-day span last weekend, and suddenly we have to ask if this is going to become a thing. Oh, please let this become a thing.
Of course, the first question we must ask is whether there is any chance of Chapman actually sticking at the toughest position on the diamond. Chris Kusiolek isn't convinced, stating before that first start that he sees Chapman as a corner guy due partly to being "heavy footed." But it's worth noting that, back before the 2015 season, Keith Law had this to say about Chapman as he entered his first full pro campaign:
Matt Chapman, is a 70 defender at third with power and a 70 or 80 arm -- allegedly mid-90s off the mound ... I'd love to see the A's try him out at shortstop, where I think he could be average.
If you have the choice between putting a player at 3B and receiving excellent defense, or moving him to SS and getting an average performance, you have to take the shortstop route without a second thought. As you move up the defensive spectrum, it gets tougher to find quality players who can handle each position while also providing something at the plate, and it's particularly hard to find a good shortstop (at least, if you don't have Ron Washington on hand to create one out of common household items). If you can stick your best hitter up the middle, that makes it easier for you to find quality hitters for the other positions, and it reduces the need for a Sogard type who can field but who will drag your lineup down on the offensive side of the ball. Think about how valuable Josh Donaldson or Nolan Arenado is, and now imagine if you could shift them to shortstop and add another corner slugger next to them.
All of that assumes that Chapman can indeed be average at SS, though. I haven't seen a single inning of his work there, and you probably haven't either, so all we can do is dream for now. He's received 40 fielding chances and made three errors (two throwing, one fielding), so take that for what it's worth. At this point I'm assuming that this is mostly an experiment, just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. But just the fact that they're trying it at all must mean that it's worth a shot, and even if he ultimately fails at SS, his attempt will further solidify his reputation as an elite defender at 3B. After all, mediocre corner guys don't get shots up the middle.
Even better news is that this tryout isn't coming in the absence of Franklin Barreto or Yairo Munoz. It's not that one of them is hurt and missing time, with Chapman filling in for now. In fact, in four of Chapman's starts, both Barreto and Munoz also played -- in such instances, Barreto moves to 2B and Munoz to 3B, or one of them serves as DH. On Tuesday, Munoz was playing 3B when Chapman entered, and he stayed there while the latter took the tougher position. Entering the year, the AN community wondered which of Barreto or Munoz would be the primary SS in Midland, and it turns out the answer might be neither, haha, fooled y'all. With the A's, the answer is always "Option C that you never even considered."
We don't know yet where this will lead. Most likely nothing will come of it and Chapman will remain at 3B long-term, but there's a nonzero chance that this is the beginning of a new chapter for the player who is quickly becoming the team's top prospect. Whatever happens, Chapman's defensive profile will be a plus as he moves up the ladder, either because he's great on a corner or decent up the middle, and that's before even getting to his bat. Remember, he can also do this:
As I was writing this Wednesday afternoon, Chapman hit two more homers against Springfield to take the Texas League lead with 13 on the year.
Hitters (thru 45 games)
Matt Chapman, 3B/SS: .268/.376/.524, 11 HR, 13.2% BB, 28.4% Ks, 149 wRC+
Yairo Munoz, SS: .244/.306/.422, 4 HR, 8.1% BB, 15.2% Ks, 105 wRC+
J.P. Sportman, OF: .258/.324/.355, 1 HR, 8.8% BB, 19.1% Ks, 92 wRC+
Franklin Barreto, SS: .230/.282/.333, 4 HR, 5.3% BB, 21.3% Ks, 73 wRC+
Tyler Marincov, OF: 9-for-28, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 101 wRC+
Watch out with that strikeout rate, Chappy. It's getting a bit high, even though we love every other thing about you. Barreto has cooled back off, but I just checked my calendar and he's still only 20 years old.
Raul Alcantara, RHP: 9 starts, 3.69 ERA, 46⅓ ip, 38 Ks, 18 BB, 5 HR
Joel Seddon, RHP: 8 games, 7.54 ERA, 37 ip, 17 Ks, 20 BB, 3 HR
Bobby Wahl, RHP: 10 games, 3.78 ERA, 16⅔ ip, 16 Ks, 5 BB, 1 HR
Kris Hall, RHP: 11 games, 4.40 ERA, 14⅓ ip, 5 Ks, 12 BB, 2 HR
Trey Cochran-Gill, RHP: 14 games, 6.04 ERA, 25⅓ ip, 25 Ks, 12 BB, 5 HR
Sam Bragg, RHP: 7 games, 9.82 ERA, 14⅔ ip, 16 Ks, 8 BB, 6 HR
Seddon and Bragg finally have their ERAs down in the single-digits! Baby steps, people. On Monday, Seddon finally put together a start that I would consider good, though not technically quality: 5 ip, 1 run, 4 Ks, 1 BB. That could be a turning point, or a brief blip on the dark path to oblivion, so let's hope for the former.
I included Hall in here just to note that he's back in action, but dang, he's pitching terribly so far. Cochran-Gill has fallen completely to pieces since his encouraging start to the season, and I'm on the verge of losing interest in him. He's allowed multiple runs in six of his last seven outings, for a total of 13 in only 10⅓ innings. He's giving up homers and the walks from last year are coming back, and it's adding up to awful results.
Dylan Covey remains on the disabled list for now.
Three affiliates are in action tonight.
Triple-A Nashville: 7:05 p.m., Daniel Mengden vs. Las Vegas
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Chris Jensen vs. Springfield
High-A Stockton: 6:35 p.m., Daniel Gossett vs. Lancaster
Single-A Beloit: Postponed (rain)
I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to create a baseball league in the Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana area, but ... it wasn't. Lotsa rain for Beloit this season.
No matter, though. It's Mengden Day, with a side of Gossett to sweeten the deal! Both of those guys are the best starters on their respective teams.