It looked like the Phillies would be cashing another check last December when the Detroit Tigers selected Travis Chapman in the Rule 5 Draft. With the signing of David Bell and the emergence of Chase Utley, plus the presence of Placido Polanco, there wasn't going to be much room for Chapman. It's not like the Phillies wanted to lose him, but they had bigger fish to protect and had to take a chance that nobody would claim Chapman. The plan didn't work out and Chapman was in camp with the Tigers when spring training rolled around.
In March, the Tigers probably couldn't tell that they would be as bad as they were. Even so, they had to have a clue. They also should have figured that keeping Chapman at the expense of one of the other stellar players on their roster wouldn't kill their playoff hopes. You have to think that they're rethinking that now. Instead, they sent Chapman to the Cleveland Indians, who then sent him back to the Phillies. Cleveland probably figured that they too were too good to carry a player of Chapman's ilk.
The Phillies eagerly welcomed Chapman back to the fold and sent him to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Chapman took over the third base job, playing 134 games for Scranton. With 12 homeruns, 82 RBI and a .272 average, Chapman was impressive. He also showed solid defensive skills at the hot corner. Young Travis Chapman had suddenly become even more interesting to the Phillies.
As the season wound down, Chapman was a late addition to the list of September call-ups. The Phillies had internal discussions about whether or not to bring Chapman to Philly and finally decided that he might as well come along for the ride. If not for the injury to David Bell, he would have likely been left behind when the rosters expanded. There was probably some small value to having Chapman just get the experience of what major league players go through on a day-to-day basis, but as for real game experience, Chapman didn't get much of that. No at bats.
Chapman's lack of September playing time was no sign that the Phillies don't think he can help. Early in the month, the Phillies were in a pennant race and stayed there for a good amount of September. It's not necessarily the time for a guy that was exposed in the Rule 5 Draft to be counted on for a lot. Plus, Larry Bowa is slow to play young guys, even if it is September. There was a sure sign that the Phillies are interested in Chapman when they selected him as part of their contingent for the Arizona Fall League. With the Phillies being given only one spot for a position player, Chapman was an interesting choice.
Arizona has been a tough experience for Chapman. He was hit by a pitch on the back of his hand and is still nursing the injury. It's nothing serious and he can play through it, but the AFL isn't a place to push even slightly injured young players. Because of that, Chapman has gotten just 21 at bats in 6 games and is hitting .238 with 2 RBI. The Phillies aren't worried about Chapman getting a lot of plate time though, they're more interested in seeing what he can do defensively. The Phillies sent along instructions for Chapman to play some first base in the AFL and he has. Even when he's not in the lineup, he's taking ground balls and throws at first, to get used to the scenery from that side of the diamond.
Last season, the Phillies had brought in Tyler Houston as a backup at third and first base, but he made an unceremonious exit late in the season and won't be coming back anytime soon. That means that the Phillies bench might have room for a guy like Chapman if he could learn to play a little first base. Certainly, as a guy who could play just third, Chapman wasn't going to be too valuable coming off the bench because he wouldn't give the Phillies enough flexibility. The Phillies also don't figure on plugging Chapman in at third full-time even if David Bell doesn't recover from his hip and back injuries. If Chapman adjusts to first base, he makes himself a little more valuable to the Phillies.
The Phillies are considering another experiment with Chapman. He could become an emergency catcher. It's not written in stone, but the Phillies have toyed with the idea of having Chapman at least do a little work with some of the catchers this spring. The plan would be that he could hang out on the bench while backup Todd Pratt would see a little more opportunity as a pinch-hitter. That way, the Phillies would have Chapman available to catch if they needed to go to a third catcher. It's just another move that would make Chapman a little more valuable.
Chapman is certainly not guaranteed a job in Philadelphia in 2004. He will likely get more of a look this spring and could find himself with a bench job in Philadelphia if things go right for him in the spring. If not, he will return to Scranton and would either reclaim his third base job or start getting some on-the-job training at first base. Another scenario is that Chapman could be included as part of a trade package over the winter. Any player who is selected for the Arizona Fall League instantly gets at least some boost in their stock price simply by being judged among the more prized prospects in their organization.
Whatever the scenario that plays out, rest assured that Chapman's name won't be called in this year's Rule 5 Draft. The Phillies have elevated the young man to a place at least slightly higher than they had him last season when they tried to sneak him through. Plus, they now know that other teams are aware of him and sneaking him through won't work. Instead, Chapman may be sneaking his way through spring training for at least a utility job with the 2004 Philadelphia Phillies.