by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor
The A’s youth movement finally appears to be in full effect – and third baseman Matt Chapman, catcher Bruce Maxwell and outfielder Jaycob Brugman are clear evidence of that. While Maxwell has been back and forth between Oakland and Nashville multiple times over the last couple of seasons, Chapman and Brugman both were called up in June to make their major league debuts for the A’s.
We’d spoken with all three players before during stops at Stockton, Nashville, the Arizona Fall League and in spring training, but we wanted to check in and see how the trio has been adjusting to life in the majors. So, earlier this week, we took the opportunity to talk to all three of them again, but this time while wearing major league uniforms in the A’s clubhouse…
The A’s top draft pick in 2014, the third baseman has been considered one of the team’s top power-hitting prospects. He hit 16 home runs in just 49 games for Nashville this season and tagged a pair of home runs in one game for Oakland. Chapman is also known as a talented defender at the hot corner and has already made a number of impressive plays in the field for the A’s. The 24-year-old went on the disabled list in late June with a knee infection, but he returned to action during the first week of July, and he’s now fully focused on making his mark in the majors.
AF: Now that you’re here in Oakland, what’s the biggest difference you find yourself encountering in the big leagues compared to what you’d experienced in the minor leagues?
MC: I don’t know if I can put my finger on one thing. But you see good stuff every single night. Guys are consistent in what they do. They try to figure out what your weaknesses are and they try to exploit them. So, you’ve just got to keep working extra hard to stay with your approach. And every little thing counts. At this level, it’s attention to detail, and it’s a lot of work. You know, the talent’s at every level, but up here, it’s just fine-tuned, and everybody knows their role and knows what they’re doing. It’s a clean game and it’s at a fast pace. There’s always an adjustment at every level.
AF: Are there any specific adjustments that you’ve had to make at this level so far?
MC: Really just slowing the game down and trying to get back to what I do best. You’ve got to trust what’s gotten you to this level.
AF: You mentioned the game being faster at this level. It seems like everyone says that. Was that one of the first things that you noticed here?
MC: Yeah, the speed of the game just keeps getting faster and faster at each level.
AF: What about the defensive end of things? You’ve always been known as a solid defender at third base, and you’ve already made some nice plays for the A’s in the field. Has your preparation or anything else you do in the field changed for you up here?
MC: The preparation stays the same. I feel like I have a pretty good preparation routine defensively. I guess just kind of getting to know my pitchers and getting to know the hitters on the opposing teams, and just figuring out who bunts, who doesn’t, kind of where to position myself and what pitches the pitchers on our team throw and all those little detail-oriented things.
AF: So, how did they break the news to you in Nashville that you were going to the big leagues?
MC: My coach came into the cage and told me I wasn’t in the lineup, so I was kind of mad. And then he told me that I was going to the big leagues, so it was a nice surprise.
AF: How nervous were you in your first big league game? Did it seem like you were in a dream?
MC: Yeah, definitely. There are so many emotions going on at that time, it’s hard to really even describe it, but it was a great day. It was like I was having an out-of-body experience…you’re kind of in your own world.
AF: Well, I know you’re from southern California, so has your family had the chance to come see you here much?
MC: Yeah, they’ve had the chance to come up once. They came for my debut.
AF: So, how tough was it for you having to sit out while you were on the disabled list? Were you kind of going crazy?
MC: Yeah, definitely. I wanted to come back, and I wanted to come back as fast as possible. And when I first came back, I was fresh out of the hospital. So, there’s definitely an adjustment period with getting some strength back, but I feel totally good now. It took some time for the antibiotics to finish off and for me to feel right again, but I feel good and confident going into the rest of the year.
AF: Is it true that you were texting Bob Melvin from the hospital quite a bit and telling him you were ready to come back?
MC: Yeah, yeah.
AF: So, on the personal side of things, what are your living arrangements like and where are you living at here in the Bay Area now?
MC: I’m in Walnut Creek…I’m staying with a couple guys on the team.
AF: Had you ever spent much time in the Bay Area before?
MC: Not too much. I’ve just been kind of checking it out. I’ve got to make my way into San Francisco on one of our off days.
AF: How does it feel to have a bunch of guys you’ve played with in the minors up here playing with you as well?
MC: Yeah, it’s definitely good to know you’ve got some guys like that to lean on. And you get to go to war with those guys you feel comfortable with, and we can all help each other learn together and grow.
AF: Have any of the guys who’ve been here a while helped you out or offered you any helpful advice?
MC: Yeah, everybody’s kind of helped me out and tried to help me feel comfortable and make that adjustment. Yonder Alonso’s helped me out a lot and just tried to get me thinking the right way and pointing things out to me that maybe I wouldn’t notice, so it’s good.
AF: We’ve got a couple of months left in the season at this point. So, is there anything in particular that you’re focused on trying to accomplish?
MC: Well, from a team aspect, we want to win, and I think we feel like we can do something really special in the second half. We’ve got a good group of guys…and we feel like we can compete on a daily basis. And if you look at the records around the league, everything’s pretty tight with the wild card, so nothing’s out of the question. I think we just want to keep getting better and keep growing as a team. And then, personally for me, I just want to keep getting better and keep making that transition to the big leagues and figure out how to bring my best self every single day and how to compete at this level and take that into finishing strong this year and preparing for the next.
A 2nd-round selection in Oakland’s 2012 draft class, the 26-year-old backstop has climbed his way up through the A’s system step by step and he’s now taken over as the A’s primary receiver. He’s done solid work behind the plate, and is currently boasting a .386 on-base percentage in 28 games for the A’s this season. Always known for his work ethic, Maxwell is determined to make the most of the opportunity to lay claim to the A’s catching job.
AF: I think this is your third time back up here in Oakland this year. Do you feel like there’s something new you learn each time you come up or do you come back with a little more confidence each time?
BM: You’re always learning stuff up here. But I feel like this time around, it’s a different feel, different mindset, different role I’m playing seeing how the departure of Stephen Vogt puts me in a more solidified position up here. So, I’m able to kind of relax a little more than I have in the past and be able to kind of trust in my game and take on a leadership role on this team, even as a rookie. But it’s a little different – everything is a little more important now, everything is more consistent now. And I’ve reached a comfort level of mine that I’ve been looking for. So, now it’s just time to play.
AF: So, it’s made things a lot easier for you now knowing that you’ve got a defined role.
BM: It’s made everything I do on a daily basis a lot easier and a lot more consistent for the most part – just getting the consistent at-bats now and getting the consistent looks behind the plate.
AF: Now that you’ve been in there more regularly, has your relationship with the pitchers on the staff changed at all?
BM: Not really. I’ve known a lot of these guys for the past couple years. So, they treat me just like they did when I was up here for a week or when I was up here for three days. Now it’s just they get to work with me a little more consistently, so they get a little more comfortable.
AF: And how much time do you spend studying the scouting reports and working with the pitching staff prior to a game, prior to a series?
BM: It’s our job, we do it all the time. It’s just about the feel, the relationship between you and the pitcher and making sure you guys are on the same page…I’ve gotten more comfortable with the meetings, with the knowledge and the information. Now I’m seeing these teams consistently, so the knowledge is more polished. And we just continue to learn about these hitters and try to dominate them the best we can.
AF: What about at the plate? Are the opposing pitchers at this level approaching you any differently than the pitchers in Triple-A did?
BM: Yeah, up here, their execution’s a lot better than it is at Triple-A, so it’s a little different. But up here, guys who’ve been around the game for a while already know their own scouting report. So, it’s our job to make the adjustment before the other team does. They know my scouting report, and I know my own scouting report. So, it’s just about minimizing their execution and then taking advantage of it when they don’t execute.
AF: I know when you were first drafted, you didn’t have a lot of catching experience under your belt, and that was a big focus for you early on. So, where do you feel you’re at defensively at this point, and are there any little things you’re working on right now?
BM: Yeah, behind the plate, everything is so small. So, it’s about staying on your work and being able to perfect everything that you do. I’m constantly adjusting my stances and my receiving skills and all that kind of stuff, because there’s always room for improvement back there. I’m pretty quiet as a catcher in general, and I get compliments from umpires and coaches and stuff but, at the same time, I could be that much better. So, never a day goes by that we don’t work on what I do behind the plate.
AF: You mentioned Stephen Vogt earlier, so what did you pick up from him while you were both here?
BM: I’ve been with Stephen the last four years. I’ve been in big league camp every year, and you learn little things from guys in your position every year. He’s taught me so much – the mental side of it, the physical side of it, the catching side of it. I continue to apply all that in my everyday work and my everyday game play. So, I couldn’t be more grateful for a teammate like him, and I wish him all the success over in Milwaukee.
AF: Whether it’s on the field or off the field, what are the key differences between playing here at this level and playing in Triple-A?
BM: Everybody wants to win up here. Triple-A is still a developmental process. You know, we won everywhere we’ve been for the most part, this core group of young guys. But up here, it’s more of a team-based evaluation. It’s all about wins up here, however you’ve got to do it. It’s about getting those “W”s in the column. Up here, it’s easier to kind of put yourself on the back burner and just kind of do what you need to do for the team.
AF: You don’t need to worry about getting to the next level because there is no next level! But you’ve been up and down between here and Nashville a few times this year. So, on the personal side of things, where are you staying at now, and who are you living with up here?
BM: Well, me and a couple of the other young guys are about to bunk up out in Walnut Creek on the next home stand. We’ve found a place for a couple months. We’ve just been kind of trying to figure it out. So, moves to be made soon.
AF: I know you moved around a bit as an Army brat. So how do you find living in the Bay Area?
BM: It’s all right. We don’t really have time to do much out here. I’m here for work, and then when work’s over, I go back home. The fans out here are great. There’s a lot of history out here in the Bay Area, but we don’t get much time to go and explore those things in general. I get to the field pretty early to take care of my job, because this is the reason why I’m here.
AF: Well, I guess the part of the Bay Area you know the best is the Coliseum!
BM: Pretty much!
The lefty-swinging outfielder was the A’s 17th-round draft pick in 2013. A bit of an underdog who wasn’t always prominently placed on prospect lists, Brugman has consistently out-performed expectations and over-achieved at every level. The 25-year-old has often hit near the top of the order during his minor league career and has always done a good job of getting on base. He was sporting a .373 on-base percentage in 33 games for Nashville this season, and has hit a pair of home runs in his first 33 games for the A’s. Always known as a hard worker, his enthusiasm for succeeding at the major league level is apparent.
AF: Well, we’ve talked to you when you were at Stockton and Nashville, and now you’re here in Oakland. So, what are the biggest differences you find in the game at this level?
JB: Everyone’s good! The pitchers are really good every day. And they’re going to adjust to you, so it’s a constant battle between you and the pitcher – and you’ve got to make those adjustments quicker.
AF: Have you found yourself having to make many adjustments already?
JB: Yeah, just working with the hitting coach [Darren Bush]. They know how it is up here and have got some good insights. I’ve just been making some small adjustments with my swing here and there that’s allowing me to see the ball a little better and drive the balls a little better and get into my legs a little more.
AF: Have many of the guys who’ve been around a while also been helping you out or offering you any advice since you’ve been here?
JB: Yeah, definitely, all the older guys – I talk to them every day. Mainly the outfielders because I’m out there with them a lot – so Khris Davis and Matt Joyce and Rajai Davis. They’ve seen everyone, so it’s nice to be able to say, “Hey, what kind of approach do you have on this guy?” Especially Joyce, because he’s left-handed like I am, so we talk a lot about that stuff. Every little bit helps.
AF: Is there anything different about playing center field in the majors, or playing it here at the Coliseum?
JB: Yeah, guys hit a little harder and a little farther! It’s just small adjustments. There’s certain stadiums where you’ve got to really make sure you can see the ball well. It just takes a little getting used to. But you work every day and things come.
AF: Do you find it’s really even more important here in the majors to get that first step right in center field?
JB: Yeah, you know, I’ve been working on that a lot. That whole first-step thing, I’ve been trying to get that right. And not necessarily getting the first step quickly, but going in the right direction. It’s not a matter of how quick you can move, but how efficient the routes are that you can make.
AF: Do you enjoy playing out there in center field as opposed to playing in the corners?
JB: Oh yeah, I love it. It is fun! I like to be out there and have the whole field in front of me – it’s kind of cool.
AF: You’ve got the best seat in the house out there! So, how did they break the news to you that you were going up to Oakland when you were at Nashville?
JB: They kind of just faked a hitters’ meeting. My hitting coach [Eric Martins] said before the game, “Hey, we’re going to go over some stuff and look at some video.” So, after the game, I went in there and thought we were going to have a normal meeting. And then the other coaches and the manager [Ryan Christenson] came in and told me, and I was like, “What? No way!”
AF: What did your first game in the majors feel like? Were you nervous or excited? Was it all just a blur?
JB: It could have easily been like that. But I really had to focus and make sure I wasn’t too riled up. I knew I had a job to do, and I knew I had to control my emotions. So, I really worked hard on just trying to focus in and narrow my scope and not be overwhelmed.
AF: Now I know you’re married and have a couple of kids. So, were they able to be out here for your first game?
JB: They were! They were at the first debut week, and they live here now with me.
AF: I was going to ask you what your living situation here in the Bay Area was like now.
JB: We’re in Walnut Creek.
AF: So, you’re all back together here now in a nice, normal situation.
JB: As normal as baseball can be!
AF: Were you with your family in Nashville or were you rooming with other guys there?
JB: No, I didn’t see them for a while. I roomed with Daniel Gossett, and I didn’t know when I would see my family next. So, it’s nice to be with them.
AF: So, how does it feel to have a bunch of guys you’ve played with for a while in the minors up here with you?
JB: It’s fun – it’s awesome! You know them, you play with them throughout the system, so it’s just a good, comfortable situation, and it’s nice to see them all have that success too.
AF: Well, I guess it’s probably something you guys have all sat around talking about before, and now it’s actually happening.
JB: Yeah, that’s right!
AF: We’ve got a couple of months left in the season at this point. So, what are you focused on trying to accomplish the rest of the way?
JB: Just to put together some wins as a team. My goal is just to help the team win as much as I can. I want to be able to end the season with an impact and have people talking about how this team is going to be next year and kind of have that sense about us that we’re going to be trouble next year. I think that’s all we can do right now is just finish hard.
AF: Put a little fear into people!
JB: Yeah, that’s right!