Some two-and-a-half hours before Matt Chapman made his major-league debut on Thursday night, the 24-year-old third baseman was lofting home runs beyond the Coliseum wall as part of a batting practice group that also featured Ryon Healy and Chad Pinder.
For an Oakland Athletics team that is sunk in the standings and hurdling toward a third-consecutive last place finish in the American League West, the summer has devolved into an extended tryout for the young A’s who hope to be a part of a the 2018 club and beyond.
Some of the cavalry has already arrived.
Since debuting on the first day of the second half a season ago, Healy had made a habit of booming towering home runs into the seats that hang above the jagged edge in the left-center field wall.
The 25-year-old has 28 home runs in his first 137 games. He’s on pace to hit 37 in his first full season, according to ESPN calculations.
Even with his defensive limitations, the designated hitter and sometime corner infielder is the first among this new wave of young A’s to entrench himself in the lineup of the future. Manager Bob Melvin addressed that topic on Thursday when Chapman was promoted.
“This is a group of guys we identified a couple of years ago, a core group of guys we feel like we can build around into the future,” Melvin told reporters.
The No. 25 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Chapman is famous for his power, his defense and his alarming strikeout numbers.
Fans have clamored for the former Cal State Fullerton standout ever since he led last season’s spring training camp with six home runs in just 44 at-bats.
A wrist injury derailed the start of his 2017 in Triple-A, but Chapman responded by hammering 11 home runs in May and five more in 12 June games.
With a rocket arm and the athleticism to handle shortstop, Chapman has the potential to be a special defender at third. The question is how well he can curb his tendency to swing and miss. Chapman racked up 63 strikeouts in 48 Triple-A games and punched out twice in his A’s debut.
From Healy to Chapman, the club’s emerging young talent is concentrated on the infield. Marcus Semien — a de facto veteran at 26 — is mending from a broken wrist and Pinder has impressed while filling in — be it at shortstop, second, the outfield and as a DH.
A larger role for Pinder, who has slugged eight home runs in 40 games could open up should the A’s decide to move Jed Lowrie. Owning an .867 OPS, Lowrie is a compelling trade chip, especially as he plays on a $6.5 million salary (with a $6-million club option for 2018).
Even if Lowrie does end up on a contender, the everyday second base job isn’t necessarily in Pinder’s future.
Melvin recently expressed that he views Pinder, in the big picture, as a Ben Zobrist super-utility type. The long term answer at second is likely Franklin Barreto, the organization’s most highly thought of prospect.
Still just 21, Barreto had a monster spring — .481 average in 16 Cactus League games — but has since endured struggles. The Venezuelan infidler hit . 349 in April before watching that average fall to .265 in May and .193 in June.
Barreto will have to rediscover that spring and early-season form before the A’s are compelled to summon him from Triple-A.
Nonetheless, the A’s have the makings of an unusually powerful infield. Chapman at third. Semien at short. Lowrie, Pinder and Barreto all as options at second. And Yonder Alonso and Healy both capable of playing first.
Come the start of August, the A’s could be trotting a seriously powerful group with Chapman and Semien on the left side and Pinder and Healy on the right.
Trades feel inevitable and the young guys — sooner rather than later — will have their chance to shine.
The rest of the crew
Whether the A’s decide to move Alonso, who has already nearly doubled his career high in home runs, will play a large role in how many prospects get their crack in the months to come.
Two players to watch for are Matt Olson and Renato Núñez. The 23-year-old Olson, who’s already made a couple of cameos in Oakland this season, has 16 homers for Nashville. The right-fielder and first baseman is second on the club to Núñez who had 18.
It’s that bat — not the glove — that will carry Núñez to Oakland. For Nashville, the 23-year-old has seen time at DH, first base, second, third and left field.
The final two guys to include on this list are Jaycob Brugman and Bruce Maxwell — neither of whom fit the power-hitter mold.
Brugman parlayed a strong but not great Triple-A showing (.288 average) and an organization-wide lack of high-end outfield talent into a chance with Oakland. Maxwell meanwhile is the next man up should the club decide to trade one of Stephen Vogt or Josh Phegley or if either ends up on the shelf.