Athletics

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

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AP

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.”

A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach

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AP

A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach

OAKLANDThe Oakland A’s named Matt Williams as third base coach on Bob Melvin’s coaching staff for the 2018 season, the club announced today.

Williams spent five seasons on the Arizona Diamondbacks coaching staff as first base coach (2010) and third base coach (2011-13, 16) and also managed the Washington Nationals for two seasons.  He was named National League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA in his first season as manager in 2014, guiding the Nationals to a 96-66 record and an NL East title.  He went 83-79 in 2015 for a 179-145 (.552) record in two seasons as manager.

Williams played 17 seasons in the majors with San Francisco (1987-96), Cleveland (1997) and Arizona (1998-2003).  He was a .268 career hitter with 378 home runs and 1218 RBI in 1866 games.  Williams was a five-time All-Star and won four Gold Gloves as a third baseman.

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Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

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AP

Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

The A’s wasted no time making their first major move of the offseason, and it has a domino effect on how their 2018 lineup will take shape.

The trade of young slugger Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday paves the way for left fielder Khris Davis to start getting heavy at-bats as the designated hitter, the spot left vacant by Healy.

It also points to another move the A’s want to pull off — acquiring a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who presumably can eat up those defensive innings that Davis spends as the DH.

It’s a series of moves that isn’t all that surprising given the A’s roster makeup right now. Healy, who hit .282 with 38 homers in 221 games over his first two big league seasons, is capable of playing either first or third base. But Matt Olson and Matt Chapman secured those spots, respectively, with their solid showings as rookies last season.

“We’ve obviously talked a lot since the end of the season about adding to the bullpen,” A’s general manager David Forst said on a conference call Wednesday night. “At the same time, with the emergence of Matt and Matt, on the corners, maybe Ryon needed to be somebody we might have to move ...”

It makes sense for Oakland to find a way to shift Davis from being the everyday left fielder while still keeping his 40-homer bat in the lineup. Opponents have routinely taken extra bases the past two seasons on Davis’ throwing arm, and whether they add a newcomer to play left or shift Joyce or someone else there, chances are they can benefit from better defense in left.

The A’s also feel they got an important chip back from Seattle to help bolster a bullpen that ranked 13th in the American League last season with a 4.57 ERA. They received right-hander Emilio Pagan (along with minor league shortstop Alexander Campos), and figure that the 26-year-old Pagan is someone the A’s have pegged to be an immediate contributor in their ‘pen.

A 10th round draft pick in 2013, Pagan made his big league debut in 2017 and posted a 3.22 ERA over 34 games spread over four stints with Seattle. He endured a rocky first couple of outings but, after being called up for good in the second half, eventually worked his way into a late-inning setup role. Pagan struck out 56 and walked just eight in 50 1/3 innings, numbers that surely popped out to Oakland’s front office.

He’ll likely be called upon in middle relief to help set the table for Chris Hatcher and closer Blake Treinen, as the bullpen currently looks.

Campos, just 17, spent this past season in the Dominican Summer League, and Forst said the A’s were eyeing Campos last summer when they eventually traded Yonder Alonso to the Mariners. Oakland wound up getting center fielder Boog Powell back in that deal.

Did the A’s rake in enough for Healy? As with all trades, it will take time to judge. But it’s fair to say that Healy’s departure will be felt in a clubhouse that is characterized by the emergence of many young position players, and he was a part of that group. In fact, when Healy was called up in July 2016 — knocking Danny Valencia out as the regular third baseman — he became the first of several promising position-player prospects to establish himself in Oakland’s lineup.

He rented a house in the East Bay and eventually took in Chapman, Olson and Chad Pinder as roommates. There’s a fiery side to Healy’s on-field personality that was a positive for the A’s, and watching him play Oakland as a member of an AL West rival will make for entertaining theatre.

Another storyline is how Davis takes to being a regular DH. Forst praised Davis’ approach to his game and doesn’t anticipate any problems, adding that the A’s still want to get Davis some time in the outfield.