The All-Star third baseman who helped shape Matt Chapman's game


The All-Star third baseman who helped shape Matt Chapman's game

El Toro High School baseball coach Mike Gonzales couldn’t have known how good he had it back in 2009.

The Chargers had a senior shortstop, Nolan Arenado, who before long would develop into a National League MVP contender. Playing behind Arenado, studying closely how his older teammate went about his business, was an undersized sophomore named Matt Chapman.

One future major league third baseman playing behind another.

“It’s totally surreal,” Gonzales says now. “To see these guys as young kids playing in our local Little League, then coming through middle school and into high school, and to see where they are now, it’s pretty special for me. It blows me away.”

As you watch Chapman, the A’s rookie who is creating a buzz with his electrifying defense and power bat, know that much of who he is as a player traces back to his time as understudy to Arenado, a three-time All-Star with the Colorado Rockies and, at age 26, already one of the majors’ premiere all-around players.

At El Toro, located in Orange County, both played shortstop before eventually shifting to third.

“Taking ground balls at shortstop, I was just trying to emulate his actions, try and do what he did,” Chapman said on the current episode of the A’s Insider Podcast. “I think my arm got stronger just by trying to keep up with how hard he threw the ball. The things he did were incredible. I think I became a better player just watching him and trying to emulate some of the things he does and pick his brain.”

Chapman’s rifle arm definitely stands out when he’s at third base. Also obvious is the genuine joy and passion with which he plays the position. It’s apparent when you watch him take pre-game ground balls or see how he chases fearlessly after foul pop-ups near the bullpen in the Coliseum’s vast foul territory.

He and Gonzales both say that Arenado’s work ethic and zest for the game rubbed off on him. But Chapman arrived to El Toro’s baseball program with some innate qualities that foreshadowed his future as a 2014 first-round pick of the A’s out of Cal State Fullerton.

The first thing Gonzales noticed was how tiny Chapman was — just 5-foot-5 or so as a high school freshman. But that didn’t tell the full story.

“He was a tiny kid but his hands were magical,” the coach said. “He had good arm strength as an incoming freshman. He could hit, he could throw. He was undersized, but he knew the game. He was a student of the game.

“Even though he was just 5-4 or 5-5, he looked like a ballplayer. He wore his uniform right, glasses on top of his hat. He just looked the part. Then you look at his hands and arms, and arm strength. For how small he was, he looked like a miniature big leaguer as a freshman.”

Chapman says he hit a big growth spurt from his junior to senior year at El Toro, sprouting from about 5-8 to 6-1 and packing on 25 pounds. (For what it’s worth, the A’s media guide lists him at an even 6-feet and now 210 pounds).

He and Arenado occasionally see each other during the offseason when they drop by El Toro. Gonzales also hosts an annual Christmas party that both attend with their families, as does Yankees catcher Austin Romine, another El Toro grad.

“The way I measure a kid is the way they treat me and my family,” Gonzales said. “I have four kids. They always give them hugs, always say hello. To me they’re still little Matty and Nolan. It’s hard to believe that they’re better people than they are players.”

Kaval calls A's ballpark plan 'as big a project' as Oakland has seen


Kaval calls A's ballpark plan 'as big a project' as Oakland has seen

OAKLAND — A’s president Dave Kaval took part in a fan Q&A session Friday at the Coliseum as part of the team’s Fan Appreciation Weekend.

Here’s some bits and pieces from the session, which was moderated by A’s radio broadcaster Ken Korach:

—Would the A’s re-consider the Coliseum site for a new ballpark if the Peralta location ultimately doesn’t work out?

Kaval: “We’re 100 percent focused on Peralta. We think it can be a dynamic location, and we’re excited about engaging the community. .. But we’re not abandoning East Oakland.”

To that end, Kaval emphasized once again the A’s ambition for the Coliseum site — if all of the current professional teams do in fact bolt the location — to eventually house a youth sports academy with baseball fields and other facilities.

“Wouldn’t it be something to have more home-grown players playing at our (new) ballpark?”

—What other ballparks might be inspirations for design of the venue?

“I think the two guiding principles we have, are, 1) that it’s an intimate ballpark. Not a bad seat in the house. No nosebleeds. Think Fenway or Wrigley (plans are for a roughly 35,000 seat stadium). And 2) build something uniquely Oakland. Something that feels like Oakland, whether it’s an Oaklandish store (built in to the stadium), or the foodie culture …”

—Addressing how city and county funds might be utilized, Kaval emphasized that the ballpark itself will be privately financed, as has been stated before. He mentioned public funds being used for infrastructure (also a long-established idea), including possible enhancements to the Lake Merritt BART station, which is a short walk from the proposed stadium location.

“We’ll work together with the county, with the city, with (the) Peralta (Community College District). This is as big a project as the city has ever seen, a massive coordinating effort.”

—As Kaval told NBC Sports California in this story last week, the A’s plan to retain a good chunk of their current young core of talent to be the cornerstone players once the new stadium opens. Their target move-in date is Opening Day, 2023. That likely means sinking money into long-term extensions for players who will be arriving at, or nearing, their free agency years. Kaval mentioned the Cleveland Indians of the early 90’s as an example of a team opening a new stadium with a home-grown group of stars. Billy Beane, the head of the A’s baseball operations, has made the same comparison in the past.

— The A’s plan to build substantial parking, but the idea is for the new ballpark to be “(public) transit-first, like AT&T Park and Fenway,” Kaval said. … “It’s gonna take cars off the road.”

Having said that, Kaval added that the A’s will aim to preserve the tailgating culture with the parking that they do provide.

Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?


Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?

Don’t count out top prospect Franklin Barreto as a possibility for the A’s in center field.

It’s long been speculated that the middle infielder might eventually get a look in center, and the idea has at least been discussed in team circles. It’s tied partially to whether the A’s exercise their $6 million club option on Jed Lowrie and bring him back as their regular second baseman in 2018.

Regardless, the battle to be Oakland’s everyday center fielder will be one of the A’s most intriguing storylines next spring. Grady Fuson, a special assistant to general manager David Forst who spends much of the season evaluating the team’s farm system, discussed several of the team’s center field options in the latest A’s Insider Podcast.

So much revolves around the health of 22-year-old Dustin Fowler, one of three prospects the A’s received from the Yankees for Sonny Gray. He’ll spend the winter continuing to rehab from a devastating knee injury suffered in his very first major league game in June while still with New York.

The A’s are hopeful he’ll be ready for spring training and believe he can be a solution in center.

“Fowler certainly is the guy we made this trade for, and I think everybody, top to bottom, in the system is counting on him taking that spot,” Fuson said. “But we all know he’s been hurt. How he comes back, who knows? Boog (Powell’s) been doing a very good job for us. And there’s other options.”

The 21-year-old Barreto, who has split time between second and short this season at Triple-A and with the big club, played some center in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2015. He’s always talked with enthusiasm about the idea.

The A’s experimented with another highly touted young infielder, Yairo Munoz, in center field in the minors this season.

“(We’ve) had discussions about taking Munoz out there, which we’ve done,” Fuson said. “We’ve had discussions about maybe Franklin Barreto, depending on what happens at second here at end of the year, over the winter, and early in camp.”

Lowrie has enjoyed a very strong season with Oakland, and A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane has said the team is seriously considering picking up his option. Having Barreto be an option in center could be a way to keep him in the majors in 2018 even if Lowrie returns at second base.

Fuson stressed that the idea of Barreto in center hasn’t advanced past the early-discussion phase. No decisions have been made.

What’s interesting is that, in a short time, the A’s have gone from scarce few center field options to suddenly having several. Powell and Fowler may enter the spring as front runners, but Munoz, Jaycob Brugman, Chad Pinder, Jake Smolinski and, perhaps, Barreto may all have a shot too.

The A’s also used their first-round pick in June on high school center fielder Austin Beck, who represents another option down the road.