Chase d’Arnaud was drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, signed right away, and hit .286 in his first year at State College. This year he started the season in West Virginia, batting .291 with a .394 on-base percentage, before getting promoted to Lynchburg. Chase is currently hitting .271/.377/.444 in 133 at-bats at Lynchburg, with three homers and nine stolen bases.
While at the Lynchburg Hillcats game on Sunday, August 16th, I had a chance to interview Chase:
Tim: Chase, you were drafted in 2005, 44th round by the Dodgers. Were you set on college, or did you consider signing at all?
Chase: I was definitely set on college. I was one of the kids that wanted to experience school, and not go back as a 26-27 year old that had been released…I was willing to sign, if I had gotten drafted and a team offered a million dollars then I’d consider it, which is probably a little too high of an asking price, a lot too high for me at the time…it would have taken a lot for me to miss out on that experience of college, especially at Pepperdine, right next to the beach.
Tim: You entered the draft again in 2008. What was going through your mind as the draft was going on in 2008?
Chase: I was dead set on signing…I really just wanted to get (to the big leagues), and signing was the first step.
Tim: What were your thoughts when your name went off the board to the Pirates in the fourth round?
Chase: It was a great feeling. I had no idea who was going to draft me. I had spoken to pretty much every team before the draft, I just knew I was going to go anywhere between the second and fifth round.
Tim: You made the move from third base to shortstop. How’s that gone so far?
Chase: It’s gone well. I feel great at shortstop, very comfortable there. They even have me playing a bit of second base now, so I’ve gone from third, to short, to straight up middle infielder. The transition from short to third base as soon as I got to Pepperdine was pretty easy, but from third base back to middle infield was difficult, just because your feet can get lazy at third base, and you might slow down a little bit. After a couple of years back at shortstop now I feel great, and feel I’ve got it under control, but I’ve still got a lot to learn, and there’s a lot of growth there.
Tim: What’s the biggest thing you think you need to work on as far as the middle infield?
Chase: As of right now second base. I’d like to be as good at second base as I am at shortstop. I’m happy with having second base, shortstop, and third base all in my arsenal, I’m sure it’s only a good thing to know every position. The quicker I can get my level of play at second base as good as my play at shortstop, the better.
Tim: Pirates lack a lot of depth in the minors in the middle infield positions. You’re talked about as a future option in the majors. How does that feel being looked upon as a possible future part of the team?
Chase: It’s great to hear, but I’m just going to keep busting my butt and working hard every day to fulfill the fans’ needs, and whatever the Pirates need me to do, I’ll do it. I’ve bought in to what they’ve said, hopefully it will get me there.
Tim: Anything they’ve said to you so far on the rebuilding process?
Chase: I really don’t know too much about it, I just know they flushed out the whole system and we have a whole new staff. There’s still some people that remain with the program, but from what I hear it’s just completely different than how it was two years ago from the guys who are still here from two drafts ago and beyond.
Tim: You’ve played three levels of A-ball so far. You’ve had a lot of success in each, including here in Lynchburg so far. Any major difference in talent between pitchers at each level?
Chase: They become more polished and the game just speeds up. The hitters are better, the umpires are a little better. I hear that at AA (with) the umpires, there’s a big jump. Just the quality of play in general…everything about it is more polished.
Tim: A lot of what I focus on is stats. What do the stats not tell about your game?
Chase: Maybe my ambition and my determination, those are things that are tough to see from stats. Hustle, perhaps. I could be having a worse year than my stats say, I could be having a better year than what my stats say. It’s a lot easier to watch somebody play and see what they’re capable of, and envision them five years from now after seeing what their potential could be.
Tim: What would you say is the strongest part of your game?
Chase: This is a question I don’t like answering. I just want every aspect of my game to be equal. I just want to be a good overall player that can do everything well.
Tim: What’s the biggest part of your game that you’re working on right now.
Chase: Other than second base, probably hitting in general. Like I said I like to do everything well, so I pay attention to everything equally, and yes I pay more attention to my weaknesses than my strengths. I’d say learning the lead-off spot. That’s new to me. I’ve only been doing that for a certain amount of at-bats now, just since I joined Lynchburg, and the first couple of weeks I was struggling with it, but now I feel I’ve got a good grasp on that, just how to approach my first at-bat of every game.
Tim: You had a finger injury a few weeks ago. How serious was the injury?
Chase: At first they thought it was very serious. Went to the local hospital here, and they put me in a cast immediately, and thought I’d torn my UCL, which is a ligament in your thumb. A week later the Pirates sent me to Pittsburgh to see their hand specialist, who said that my thumb was stable now, and that I’d be able to start rehabbing as soon as I got back.
Tim: Any problems since the injury, since you’ve been back?
Chase: It hasn’t fully gone away, I can still feel it, but I can play through it easily. It’s not painful, I just know it’s there, and I just think about it less and less every day that goes by.
Tim: You’ve been stealing a lot lately. Have you just gotten the green light, or are you just seeing better opportunities?
Chase: I guess just seeing better opportunities. The higher you go you don’t really steal off the catchers, because the catchers are all very good. You steal off the pitchers, and some pitchers are just slower than others to the plate, and when I recognize a pitcher as being slow to the plate I just try to take advantage of it
as often as I can, second and third base.
Tim: Yes or no question. Chase d’Arnaud: Future of the Pittsburgh Pirates middle infield.
Chase: Of course, I’d love to be there, but there are a lot of other good players in the program, so we’ll see how it all pans out. A lot of the time players get traded, you never know what’s going to happen. I’d love to play for the Pirates, it would be awesome. I love Pittsburgh and all the fans there, they’re great. It’d be an honor to play for the Pirates.
On the field, Chase is a hard worker on all sides of the game. I’ve seen Chase play several times in Lynchburg this season. I’ve yet to see him leave a game with a clean uniform. Off the field Chase is very personable, seems to have priorities in line, and appears to just be enjoying the experience of playing professional baseball.
While I’d love to see Chase in the majors, starting for the Pirates, it’s a little early for any concrete projections. Chase not only has to make the big jump to AA, but another level at AAA that stands between himself and Pittsburgh. While the middle infield depth is thin in the Pirates’ system, the depth in Lynchburg is solid, with 2008 third round pick Jordy Mercer, and Josh Harrison, who was acquired in the Tom Gorzelanny/John Grabow trade. That doesn’t include Jarek Cunningham, who returns next year from an ACL injury that sidelined him for the entire 2009 season.
As for his ability, Chase definitely has the talent to make it. He has a strong arm and good range on defense. He’s currently working on playing three positions well defensively, which would make him very valuable. He’s smart about stealing bases, with a career 40 for 49 (81.6%) stolen base rate in just over one year as a pro. He also has demonstrated solid hitting ability thus far, including some good progress this year getting on base at a high rate.
In the interview, Chase said he struggled the first weeks in Lynchburg while adjusting to the role of a leadoff hitter. The stats certainly back that claim up. If you take out his first week in Lynchburg, he’s batting .303/.408/.486 with three homers and nine steals in 109 at-bats. That includes a nine game hitting streak, which just ended on the 16th, and four straight games with a stolen base, with the steals not just limited to second base.
What we’ve seen from Chase d’Arnaud so far has been very inspiring. If there’s one thing I can say about Chase d’Arnaud it’s that he’s a guy who you root for to make it in the majors. He’s got the range and arm on defense, the versatility of three positions, and has been hitting well so far in his short minor league career. Combine that talent with his selfless approach of wanting to do anything the Pirates need him to do, and it’s not only easy to root for him, but it’s easy to imagine him holding down a spot on the 25-man roster one day.
Audio of the Interview: Download