© Mark J. Rebilas | USA Today
In Major League Baseball, there are two broad categories of players. First, you have the ones who get drafted and succeed in minor-league baseball before making their way to the majors and staying there. Those players are your Buster Poseys and Brandon Crawfords.
But players in the second category have a tougher road. Maybe they get a few games a year in the big leagues before they are forced into a holding pattern in Triple-A, or maybe they get a shot early in their career and never get called up again. These are the guys who have to adapt their game to raise their stock, survive, and keep the hopes of their MLB career alive. Chase d’Arnaud falls into this category.
D’Arnaud was a fourth-round draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 2008 – the same year as Posey. But while Posey won Rookie of the Year in 2010 and has been with the Giants ever since, d’Arnaud has had only intermittent experience in the majors, with a career-high of 84 games played with the Atlanta Braves in 2016.
Nearly 80 percent of his 1,155 games have been played in the minor leagues. He’s played for teams in 16 different cities across nine different states plus some winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
“Look at Crawford and Posey, I’m really happy for those guys,” d’Arnaud said. “I wish that I was able to do the same thing. But for me, I didn’t have the same path and I take full accountability for that.”
D’Arnaud said that as a young player, he didn’t have the “great habits” of players like Posey or Crawford.
“Perhaps when I was back with the Pirates, just getting my feet wet in the big leagues, I wasn’t ready mentally,” d’Arnaud said. “It took some struggles, it took me learning some things about myself as a player and as a person to become a more consistent ballplayer.”
There’s something about the way that d’Arnaud speaks that makes you feel like he’s never hearing a question for the first time. He responds with a positivity and optimism that most people don’t display. Despite playing most of his career in the minors in different places, d’Arnaud said that loneliness was never something he allowed himself to feel.
“It’s lonely if you let it be,” d’Arnaud said. “It is really what you make of it and what your perception is. If you allow yourself to be lonely, it’s your fault. That’s how I look at it.”
So how did a player like d’Arnaud, who has a career .227 batting average, stay alive in Triple-A and the majors? Through utility.
D’Arnaud said that the Pirates told him in 2013 that there was no room for him in the infield at any level, so they moved him to the corner outfield with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, a position that demands quickness and range. That was fine for a player that chose the nickname “CHEETAH” for player’s weekend this year – a nod to the pride he takes in his speed and athleticism.
“I don’t think I would have made it beyond my 2013 season if I wasn’t athletic,” d’Arnaud said. “That was the year where baseball really humbled me and I learned that having a positive outlook and having the right attitude toward the game, regardless of how much success you’re having, is important.”
That positivity manifested itself outside of baseball.
Back in 2016, before d’Arnaud was married to his wife Kaitlin, and a father to his one-year-old son, Jagger, he was playing for the Atlanta Braves. At the same time, he was living and playing with his band, the “Chase d’Arnaud Band.” Kaitlin, d’Arnaud’s then-girlfriend, was based out of Los Angeles, giving him free time outside of baseball that he put mainly into music.
Within the opening months of the baseball season, d’Arnaud said the group finished a record and put out the ten-track EP “Seven Ghosts.” Eventually, d’Arnaud and his band were invited to play at the Bonnaroo Music Festival, Turner Field, and opened for Lady Antebellum at the Verizon Amphitheatre in addition to headlining some shows.
But once Kaitlin became pregnant, d’Arnaud said his priorities immediately changed.
“She got pregnant in October and I wanted to be there to help,” d’Arnaud said. “And it just instantly became a priority that I put over the music. Sure, I’m still writing and creating things. I’m sitting on a lot of intellectual property that is on multiple hard drives in case one backs down because I’ve spent so much time and energy, still creating. But if I can’t perform, I don’t see the reason in putting stuff out.”
D’Arnaud has arguably had his best major-league season this year, something that he credited to the birth of his son. The Giants have slotted him into the rotation for 23 games this year and he’s batting .254 with a career-high three home runs and eight RBIs.
While that improvement is down to the work he put in with a swing coach over the offseason, the spark for that extra work came from Jagger. D’Arnaud said he was drawn to the name Jagger because of it’s “lack of association,” and how distinctive it is. “It’s edgy,” d’Arnaud said.
“I mean, if it weren’t for Jagger, I wouldn’t have sought out the hitting consultant that I did this offseason and worked with,” d’Arnaud said. “I learned a lot about the baseball swing and I spent a lot of time applying what I was learning to my swing and trusting in it.”
When d’Arnaud was playing for the San Diego Padres, he worked with hitting coach Craig Wallenbrock, who encouraged him to swing at an angle that caused more fly balls. It didn’t work initially for d’Arnaud, who was waived by the Padres, but he said he committed to working on his swing tirelessly in the offseason after finishing the year hitting .297 in Triple-A. He went back to working with hitting coaches Wallenbrook, Robert Van Scoyoc and Brad Boyer over the offseason.
“What I was doing before was relying on my speed and just hitting soft ground balls up the middle and hitting doubles here and there,” d’Arnaud said. “I wasn’t taking advantage of my 6’2″, 200-pound frame with quick-twitch.”
In addition to his hitting improvement, d’Arnaud has maintained his status as a valuable utility player. In his 23 games with the Giants this season, he’s played at every infield position except pitcher and catcher. While he’s never actually played catcher, he’s the guy who you’d trust to play there because he seems like he probably could. That’s not hyperbole.
When Posey went down with a possible concussion and the Giants’ only active catcher was Nick Hundley, manager Bruce Bochy pegged d’Arnaud as the first man in line to hop behind the plate. Bochy cited d’Arnaud’s brother Travis – a catcher for the New York Mets – as his credentials.
“The ‘flying Frenchman,’ he would have been back there,” Bochy said. “I thought maybe he had caught a little bit because of his brother (Travis d’Arnaud), bloodlines, but he’s never been behind the plate. But he said he would be more than willing to get back there.”
That’s what you can expect from d’Arnaud; not just a willingness, but an excitement to do whatever is needed.
“One of the biggest things is not to complain, because you only have a finite amount of time in this world,” d’Arnaud said. “There are so many productive things that you can do instead of complaining.”
That attitude has endeared him to people like Bochy, who nearly ran out of compliments for the ‘flying Frenchman.’
“He’s great,” Bochy said. “He gives you versatility, does a good job defensively. Been a nice shot in the arm against left-handed pitching, supplying some pop and big hits. I like the way he’s playing. He’s a good athlete, runs well. Gives you good at-bats up there. He’s a smart player.”
D’Arnaud has found a comfort with the Giants. He’s played with players like Andrew McCutchen, Alen Hanson, Gorkys Hernandez, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon from his days with the Pirates. He grew up “five minutes” from Evan Longoria in Bellflower, California, and played against him and Crawford in college. He and Hundley have close mutual friends.
He’s endeared himself to teammates with his affability, while the city has endeared itself to him.
“The energy here in San Francisco I like a lot,” d’Arnaud said. “I’m walking down the street and I see scooters flying by and all these different portable devices. It’s so stimulating. I love that about San Francisco.”
But for d’Arnaud, there’s more to San Francisco than just that quick pace. There’s an intellectual fandom that players pick up on.
“I feel like they understand baseball really well,” d’Arnaud said. “I feel like they know what’s going on here and if it’s two strikes, two outs in a big situation, you can tell the fans know what’s going on. It’s a very intellectual crowd.”
As a player who’s had to learn to survive in the baseball world, d’Arnaud has found other interests after moving on from performing. He’s worked on video production, interviewed other players, and of course, put out hip-hop parody videos:
— Chase d'Arnaud (@chasedarnaud) July 12, 2018
D’Arnaud said he takes the writing of videos like “Fatherhood Bling,” as seriously as he would with any song. He enjoys video production and the poetry of hip-hop, which allow him to engage with his creative side while home with his wife and son in a way that performing can’t. When his baseball career is over, d’Arnaud said he sees video production as an avenue he intends to explore further.
“I really enjoy film production because I look at it like it’s just the ultimate form of rhetoric,” d’Arnaud said. “Rhetoric is persuasion and with video editing, you can apply music and visuals to help a person feel how you want them to feel.”
The last question I asked D’Arnaud – who said he was a student and avid fan of Drake and his production style – was if we could expect a rap mixtape from him.
“If I wanted to, I feel like I could,” d’Arnaud said. “I just might if I come up with enough songs. Maybe I will, just maybe I will. And you know what, if there’s anyone not to put it past, I wouldn’t put it past me.”