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Matt Chapman, Prospect: A Whiff Or A Homerun?

MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Chicago Cubs
Swing and a not-miss!!!
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

OK he struck out twice today, but the good news is that Matt Chapman has been making a lot more contact lately and hitting a lot of homeruns — whereas much of the season he has been striking out a ton and hitting a lot of homeruns.

A polished 3Bman with legitimate power and a good eye, Chapman is an excellent prospect...unless insufficient contact fells him as has been the fate for so many a highly-regarded prospect. Chapman’s K-rate has been over 30% most of the season, now down to 28.5% after a run of 100 PAs with just 15 Ks.

So are Chapman’s recent strides forward cause for optimism or are they just a pleasant small-sample drop in a troublesome ocean? I was heartened by the interview segment on the A’s warm up today, with Ryan Christenson, Midland’s manager (and former A’s center fielder) talking about Chapman’s progress.

To paraphrase, Christenson said he had moved Chapman to the #2 spot in the batting order last month, despite the counter-intuitive nature of "promoting" someone who is whiffing like it’s going out of style to the #2 spot. Christenson’s reasoning had to do with his direct message to Chapman: "Hit like a #2 hitter. Make a lot of hard contact and try to knock down the infielders with line drives -- and don’t try to lift everything."

It appears Chapman has been up to the challenge, trading some bad habits and a flawed approach for one that better harnesses his skills. I’m always heartened when a reason is revealed to match a change in numbers and there is no doubt that Chapman is on a good roll right now.

How good? For the season, Chapman is now batting .244/.337/.519 with a league leading 28 HRs and 80 RBIs, but here are some other stats worth noting from Chapman’s ledger:

- In the second half of the season (194 PAs): .266/.355/.621, 13 HRs in 46 games, with a K-rate of 22.2%.

- Against LHPs (113 PAs): .278/.376/.680, 8 HRs in 97 ABs. Note that his numbers against RHPs for the season aren’t really bad (.234/.324/.471), just not as stellar.

- Things are only getting better so far in August. In his 45 PAs so far: 15 for 40 with 5 BBs, 8 Ks, 4 HRs, for a slash line of .375/.444/.875 and a K-rate of 17.8%.

High K-rates are every bit worth worrying about and as a result Chapman’s season has been a mixed bag for sure. Yet here is a guy who is considered to be a very accomplished 3Bman (probably ready to play 3B in the big leagues right now), who is leading the Midwest league in HRs and RBIs, who has truly pulverized LHPs all season, who has an .856 OPS in a league that can suppress hitting numbers, and who — perhaps most importantly of all — is now getting the contact rates under control following an adjustment cleverly sold to him by his manager.

From all of this I conclude that I really like Ryan Christenson. And that I really love Matt Chapman.