Tournaments | Story | 7/16/2014

Thriving on the big stage

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Say what you will about Perfect Game’s national high school prospect rankings, they do have an impact and have been known to ignite their fair share of debate, both pro and con.

Many of the top prospects themselves, particularly those entering their senior year in high school, might pooh-pooh the rankings, claiming they pay them no mind. Others fully embrace the numerical listings and use them for both motivation and a pat on the back.

Count Riverview, Fla., elite outfield prospect Christopher Chatfield among those in the latter group. Chatfield is proud of the progression he’s made in baseball since first starting to fully concentrate on the sport only three or four years ago, and he relies on PG’s prospect rankings to monitor that progress.

“My summer has been going great,” Chatfield said Wednesday afternoon while in attendance at the 18u Perfect Game BCS Finals national championship. “Last summer I was kind of low in the rankings and I worked real hard during the high school season and this summer is going real good. I take a lot of pride in (the rankings) because I was (No.) 179 so I passed a lot of kids and I worked real hard to get it done.”

Chatfield, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound, left-handed swinging and throwing athlete who will enter his senior year at Spoto High School in Riverview in the fall, is well-versed on the numbers.

When PG’s updated class of 2015 national rankings were first released on Nov. 13, 2013, he was slotted at No. 174; in a subsequent update on Feb. 16, 2014, he had slipped to No. 179; in the most recent update on June 28, he had rocketed neatly into the No. 19 position in the rankings – leaps of 160 spots don’t happen often.

Chatfield, who has attended 17 Perfect Game tournaments or showcases since 2011 and has committed to the University of South Florida in Tampa, credits his performance at the PG National Showcase over at JetBlue Park a month ago for his rapid rise in the rankings.

“I really think that helped me a lot,” he said of his experience at the PG National. “It felt like Christmas out there; we got a bag, some bats, a lot of stuff. It was great to be out there with great competition to see how I compared with everybody else in the nation. It’s great to talk to them and see what they want to do in life and see how hard they’re working.”

It does seem as if Chatfield performs at his best when he’s on the biggest of the national stages. He is at the 18u PG BCS Finals national championship tournament this week with Bullets Baseball – a Valrico, Fla.-based organization he has played with since he was a 10-year-old – and although he has struggled at the plate (3-for-13, 2 2Bs, 1 RBI) his head coach Sal Giardina knows just how special a talent Chatfield is.

“Chris as a person off the field, he’s one of the most respectful kids that I’ve ever seen,” Giardina said Wednesday. “On the field, he has so much upside as far a working hard; he’s got a great work ethic. He’s a level-headed kid – he could go 3-for-3 or he could go 0-for-3 and it’s the same personality. The greatest thing about him is he’s just such a great teammate to the other guys; he just picks up the other guys all around him.”

Chatfield previously focused on track and field and football before shifting his attention to the diamond after his freshman year in high school. His dad, Keith Chatfield, was his track and field coach after Chris first got interested in that endeavor as a 6-year-old. They did the Junior Olympic circuit in track and field and also got more involved with football.

As Chatfield became more interested and more serious about an upper-level baseball career, he began to notice the most prominent big-leaguers of his youth, and immediately latched onto Ken Griffey Jr. as his idol. The only problem is that a future Hall-of-Famer like Griffey is a tough act to follow for a 14-year-old.

“I really tried to copy his swing but it’s tough because he probably has the prettiest swing I’ve ever seen,” Chatfield said though a laugh. Without Griffey Jr. available to give lessons, he leaned on his dad, Keith, more heavily. “Me and my dad, we practice almost every day. He throws to me in the cages, we long-toss and workout together; he’s been a big help,” Chatfield said. Keith Chatfield transitioned from track and field to baseball.

“I help him with most of his training so I like to see the results of what we’re doing,” he said Wednesday. “I see how much physical ability that he has and he hasn’t even touched (the level) that can he can reach. One of these days something will click and he will see a lot more of his ability come through.”

Chatfield has shown a lot of that ability already, and not just at the PG National Showcase. He was at the 2013 PG Junior National Showcase and was named to the all-tournament team at the 2013 PG WWBA Labor Day Classic, the 2014 18u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic and most recently at the 2014 17u PG WWBA National Championship. Keith Chatfield has been along for every stop on the ride.

“I’ve really been enjoying this,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of great parents and a lot of great people and it’s been very enjoyable. There haven’t been too many negatives about it because I’m learning the game and it’s pretty exciting to learn the different aspects of the game and the process of moving onto each level. I’m getting up to speed as we go; it’s been a learning experience.”

Keith Chatfield isn’t the only one enjoying this ride. Chris Chatfield is a popular teammate on this Bullets Baseball squad and fits in quite nicely with all the other promising players on the team, many of whom attend the same high schools in the Tampa area. Chatfield’s best friend on the team is corner-infielder Brandon Carmargo, himself an incoming senior at Spoto HS.

“These guys have all been together since they were about 10 years old, playing in the same organization,” Giardina said. “I put a lot of emphasis on the way they stick together as a team; we’re a family and we play for each other.

“This age group is great to work with; they’re a lot of fun,” he continued. “They want to strive to get to the next level, and they’re all working hard; they all have the same common goal and they’re all clinging to each other so they all can succeed.”

Giardina not only sees Chatfield’s work ethic rubbing off on his teammates, he sees Chatfield feeding off his teammate’s desire to get better: “His progression is just unbelievable, how he just keeps getting better and better every season. And the better he gets the harder he works, which just shows how much he strives to get to the next level – where ever the next level is going to be for him, college or pro.”

Chatfield recognized as soon as he decided to take baseball seriously that is was the sport he wanted to pursue at the highest level possible.

He has worked tirelessly, with the help of his dad, to become a better hitter and firmly believes that it is his improvement in that area that has led to the big bump in his national prospect rankings. That’s important to him and it remains equally that he is given the opportunity to continue to perform on the biggest stages available, where he just seems most at home.

“I feel like I play way better out there because you have to play up to the competition,” Chatfield said. “I was with those guys (at the PG National) for maybe a week and I felt like I had known them for awhile. Everybody is out there playing hard and they want to win; that is how I want to be.”

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