Bauman: Chapman living up to the hype
Cuban defector's pitching a sight to behold this spring
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Aroldis Chapman has not been oversold, overhyped or even overestimated. As glowing as his advance notices were, he is every bit as good they suggested.
Chapman made his first Spring Training start on Wednesday for the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Park. He worked three innings against the Milwaukee Brewers, and whenever he wasn't facing Rickie Weeks, he was perfect.
Chapman's day started inauspiciously with a towering home run by Weeks to left-center leading off the game. "I made a mistake on a 3-2 pitch down the middle," Chapman said through interpreter Tony Fossas, a former big league reliever and currently a Minor League pitching coach with the Reds' organization.
But this initial difficulty was the exception, not the rule for Chapman. The 22-year-old Cuban defector set down the next eight hitters before Weeks worked him for a walk with two outs in the third. For the day, Chapman gave up the one hit, one run and one walk, all to Weeks, but nothing else, while striking out five. He threw 45 pitches, 29 for strikes. He was not involved in the decision in a 5-2 Cincinnati loss.
He stayed primarily with his fastball and slider, consistently hitting 98 mph with the fastball. Against nearly every hitter but Weeks, he showed admirable command, and his pitches consistently showed good late movement.
Watching Chapman at work, while sitting behind home plate, there was little doubt that the crowd of 3,561 at Goodyear Ballpark was in on a special occurrence. The bulk of Milwaukee's regulars were in the lineup, a notable exception being first baseman Prince Fielder, who was not on hand to face this left-handed phenom. In one stretch, Chapman struck out five of six hitters and appeared to be nothing less than dominant.
Chapman's delivery is smooth enough that it does not suggest extreme velocity. He is 6-foot-4 and listed at 185 pounds, but he appears even more slender than that. His arms are long, even for his 6-foot-4 frame, and between that length and his velocity, his pitches appear to be in the zone and on the hitter almost instantaneously.
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He has now pitched seven innings in three Spring Training appearances, giving up one run on four hits with two walks, while striking out 10. Speaking through Fossas about his work, Chapman was direct and unassuming. Asked about his command, Chapman said: "I fixed some of the mechanical problems that I had, and my control is not a problem at this moment."
Asked to compare big league hitters with those he had faced in Cuba, Chapman said the Major Leaguers were "more disciplined in the [strike] zone," and "bigger and stronger," but that more "small ball" was played in Cuba.
The question hovering over Chapman's Spring Training work is whether he will open the season with the Reds or in the Minors. Chapman is a candidate for the fifth starter's spot in the Cincinnati rotation. The Reds can proceed as cautiously as they wish with Chapman's development, but it is clear that they won't find another fifth starter with anything resembling his talent level. His appearance in the Cincinnati rotation, given good health, is a question of when not if.
The Reds acted boldly when they signed Chapman to a $30.25 million, six-year deal, despite his lack of baseball experience outside Cuba. It had been widely anticipated that if Chapman was going to receive major money, it would come from one of the usual larger-market, bigger-spending franchises.
But the Reds spotted the talent and acted aggressively. It is very early in Aroldis Chapman's Major League journey, but even now, his talent is an inescapable fact. The pace of Chapman's career might still be in question. But his potential is already beyond question.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.