Throughout a baseball career that has seen him grab notice at every local stop — from Hoover High to Glendale Community College and most recently with the Glendale Angelenos — Sako Chapjian has made a name for himself from the left side of the plate.
As the top run producer for the Angelenos, as well as for Cal State Dominguez Hills, where he'll be a senior in the fall, that figures to continue. But how far the slugger goes in the future may now depend on how he handles himself behind the dish, as well.
"We have a saying in baseball, 'If you can hit, we'll find a place for you,'" says Angelenos Coach Tony Riviera says. "Sako is an impact bat."
Riviera worked Chapjian out last summer behind the plate and Toros Coach Murphy Su'a later acted on the same idea of moving Chapjian from his customary defensive positions of third base or left field to catcher during his junior season, all in the name of making the ultimate transition to the big leagues.
"What I hear is they always need catchers [in the majors] and a power-hitting catcher stands out," Chapjian says.
Chapjian was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 45th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with the 1,376th selection after batting .314 with four homers and 13 runs batted in during the Vaqueros' playoff run that reached the semifinals of the state tournament. He would continue his big summer by leading the Angelenos with nine home runs and 31 runs batted in en route to an appearance in the California Collegiate League All-Star Game at Stengel Field.
But ultimately, Chapjian made the decision not to turn professional, instead opting to continue his college career at CSUDH
"I talked to my parents and my coaches and we agreed that going back to school one more year, or maybe two, would be better for me," Chapjian says. "I can get closer to my degree and hopefully get [drafted] in the higher rounds next time.
"It was definitely a good experience for me."
The first true barometer of that plan will be the 2012 MLB Draft, which begins June 4. Chapjian led the Toros this season in RBI with 32 and walks with 22, while batting .288 with seven home runs, 14 doubles and 38 runs scored.
But just as important to his future will be whether or not Chapjian can establish himself as a true catching prospect.
Before this season, Chapjian had caught exactly one game that he can remember and it happened all the way back in his junior year at Hoover.
"It's funny because I was catching and my dad got upset — he thought it would be bad for my knees, but I was just trying to help the team out," Chapjian says. "Sure enough, I'm catching again and he's pretty cool with it now."
Despite having essentially no experience at the challenging position, Chapjian rolled up his sleeves and put in the work to learn the trade on the fly.
"At first it was really tough, just seeing the ball differently, reading the ball in the dirt, blocking," Chapjian says. "At first I couldn't do it, but I got some help from a few friends that used to play at Glendale, they helped me out a lot and I just kept doing the drills they showed me. It worked out.
"Some of the pitchers' curveballs and changeups move more than others, they have different velocity. The pitch calling is mostly done by our coach, but every now and then he felt comfortable with me calling it. I've been feeling a lot more comfortable back there now."
Angelenos first baseman Elis Whitman has watched Chapjian develop at every stage, as the two were teammates at GCC, with the Angelenos last summer and most recently at CSUDH, and has never been more impressed with his friend.
"I personally love him catching," Whitman says. "He caught a lot at the end of the season for Dominguez. He had never caught before in his life and became the No. 1 catcher on our team. That speaks volumes how much he improved in under a year to be battling out people that had caught their whole lives. His arm behind the plate is ruthless. ...The sky's the limit really for Sako at catching."
Riviera says Chapjian is ready to shine behind the plate and should get plenty of chances to do so with the Angelenos this summer, especially if starting catcher Chad Nacapoy leaves the team early to be drafted or sign a free-agent contract, as Riviera anticipates.
"He's going to get a lot of playing time behind home plate as a catcher this year," Riviera says. "The average major league throw from the time they catch the ball to the time they throw to second base is about 1.95 [seconds] and Sako is clocking out at 1.9, so he's got a major league arm right now to go out and catch at that level.
As one of the senior members of the Angelenos, Chapjian will also get a chance to showcase his leadership this season.
With walk-off home runs and clutch at-bats, Chapjian was a spark for last year's team and will have a lot on his shoulders as the big bat in the middle of the order.
Whitman says Chapjian is equipped with the patience and poise to handle it.
"Sako is probably one of the best teammates you'll have," Whitman says. "He has a smile on his face most of the time. He's a fierce competitor. He'll make you laugh, but you know every day he's going to go out and battle every day for you and with you.
"Knowing that the other team's scared to throw him fastballs helps people in front of him and people behind him. It's nice for me because I'm always in front of him.
"You can't say enough for his offensive abilities."
Chapjian will undoubtedly be performing under the watchful eye of many a pro scout this year at Stengel, but looks forward to the loose environment and camaraderie of one more summer of amateur baseball.
"We had a lot of fun," Chapjian says. "It's hard when you're playing with a bunch of guys you haven't played with before and haven't been practicing all year with, but at this level during the summer mostly all the guys are good enough to know how to play baseball and know what to do. Once a team gets chemistry and they have fun, it will be a good year."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times