By Chris Haft
Don't take your eyes off Matt Chapman, ever. You might miss something breathtaking.
Maybe it'll be a slick play in the hole or a daring backhanded grab of a tricky grounder. Perhaps it'll be a searing line drive that he stretches into a double or a game-winning home run. Regardless, consider yourself alerted: Chapman's quite likely the best player on any field he trods upon, from coast to coast, league to league.
The Oakland A's third baseman is (ITAL)that(END ITAL) good.
Oakland won the American League West last year with a 36-24 record, but that proved illusory as the A's dropped a Division Series matchup against the Houston Astros, 3-1. Conventional wisdom dictates that the A's would have fared much better with Chapman occupying his usual spots at the hot corner and somewhere in the middle of the A's batting order.
Chapman will be treated gingerly throughout the Cactus League season, owing to last year's surgery on his right hip. But Chapman feels strong and ready for the 2021 campaign.
Chapman's injury limited him to 37 games and a .232 batting average last year, though his 10 homers ranked second on the team. In 2019 he realized his potential for all-around excellence when he won his second consecutive Platinum Glove award for defensive excellence while smashing 36 home runs. That broke Eric Chavez's 2001 franchise record of 32 for third basemen. Affirming his skills in clutch situations, Chapman delivered 17 of those homers in the seventh inning or later, along with 17 that put the A's ahead.
He's already just the fifth A's player to score 100 runs in at least two seasons, joining Rickey Henderson (seven), Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi (three apiece) and Jose Canseco (two).
As formidable as Chapman can be offensively, his true value reveals itself most when he's on defense.
"He really takes pride in it," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "A lot of guys concentrate more on the bat. But defense is his calling card, even though he's a terrific offensive player, too."
The A's sensed that they had a budding star in Chapman, 27, from the time when they drafted him in the first round (25th overall) out of Cal State University-Fullerton in 2014. He displayed enviable power one year later at Class A Stockton, belting 23 homers in 80 games. He put himself on a direct path toward the Majors in 2016 when he hit 36 homers while dividing the season between Class AA and AAA
Chris Haft has covered Major League baseball for more than 30 years, a tenure featuring a 2007-19 stint as the San Francisco Giants' beat writer for MLB.com. Haft has authored or co-authored three books on the Giants, most recently "From the Stick to the Cove," the autobiography of longtime clubhouse manager Mike Murphy. Follow Chris on Twitter (@goodforball).