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02/18/10 6:41 PM ET
Chapman impresses Reds with glimpse
Cuban phenom throws 35 pitches in front of top officials
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There were four Reds pitchers throwing in the first group of the bullpen sessions in Spring Training on Thursday afternoon. Most eyes were directed at a certain 21-year-old Cuban kid.
Aroldis Chapman's Major League career officially got under way as he popped pitch after pitch into catcher Ramon Hernandez's glove. The hard-throwing Cuban left-hander, who has often drawn comparisons to a young Randy Johnson, threw 35 pitches in all. Although it was difficult to tell as the pitches whizzed over the plate, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Chapman said he was not throwing at full speed. He is capable of reaching velocities of 100 mph. "I feel very comfortable," Chapman said with Class A Dayton pitching coach and Cuban native Tony Fossas interpreting. "I had a really good day today, the first day out, with getting to know the guys. I feel this is a bunch of really good guys that have made me feel really at home." One of those players was Hernandez, who shouted commands and encouragement in Spanish during the session. "He threw hard. Today he was pretty good," Hernandez said. "They told me [before] he was maybe a little wild. I was surprised with what I saw. He's got a lot to learn. He's got good velocity, a changeup and a slider. He needs a little experience. The coaches will teach him well. I am going to say you will see him for a long time, if he stays healthy." "One of the better things to have happened so far is to have a catcher that knows Spanish," Chapman said. As Chapman threw, he was being monitored by much of the Reds' top people in the front office -- including general manager Walt Jocketty, assistant GM Bob Miller, scout Jerry Walker, manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price. Fossas helped translate coaching instructions from behind the mound. Jocketty saw Chapman throw in the bullpen a couple of days ago, too, before camp opened. "Very impressive," Jocketty said after Chapman finished throwing and moved on to hitting. "I'd like to see him when a hitter gets in there. He showed good command. Everything was right around the strike zone. I watched him do his fielding drills over there, and that was pretty good." On Jan. 11, the Reds stunned the baseball world when they emerged out of the shadows to sign the heavily pursued Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million contract. The offer beat out teams like the A's, Nationals, Angels, Marlins and Red Sox. Chapman, who defected from Cuba in July during an international tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands, was declared a free agent in September. Most Major League teams have only seen him pitch in the World Baseball Classic last year and in public or private workouts during the negotiating process. Baker, who hadn't previously seen Chapman pitch at all, spent time in his office chatting with his new pitcher. The conversation was in Spanish. "I like his makeup, body type and he understands pretty well what you're saying," Baker said. "It seems like when guys do speak to him in English, he comprehends. You can tell when a person doesn't understand. Talking to Bryan, he usually has two weeks off the entire year. This is probably the longest he's been off in his life." The Reds coaching staff isn't treating his development with kid gloves, however. He will see game action this spring. Price, who is in charge of Chapman's throwing program, plans to have him throw in the bullpen again on Saturday and once more on Monday. On Wednesday, Chapman will face Reds hitters in live batting practice. "I don't think there's any reason to say we have some sort of parameters on him," Price said. "We're going to let him go and compete. We've all seen the WBC games. We're looking forward to seeing him pitch in regular games and see what he does. There's nothing like watching guys with your own eyes and making assessments on where he fits best." The outcome of that assessment could be a chance to make the big league club out of camp. Price did not rule out Chapman beginning the season in Cincinnati as the fifth starter but said the organization would do what was best in the long run. "He can start anywhere," Price said. "But we want to assess him and make sure wherever he starts, it's the right place. It might be Cincinnati. It might be someplace else in our system. I don't know that yet. I think this kid could go into a ballgame tomorrow and be ready to compete. He's extremely athletic. He's a quick learner. His stuff is better now, in my opinion, than it was in the WBC -- at least from a command and delivery standpoint. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch and learn." Baseball figures to be one of the easiest adjustments Chapman will have to make. Being from an isolated and impoverished country, he knew little about the U.S. or the Major Leagues. He is adjusting to the culture and being a young person with a lot of money. Before signing with the Reds, Chapman knew nothing about the team or the city until he was taught by his agent and handlers. "He comes in with a lot more ballyhoo than a lot of the younger pitchers in our system and kids that we really like," Price said. "He's coming over from Cuba. He got the nice contract. He's an exciting young guy to watch and he's a hard thrower. That draws the attention immediately to him. We don't want him to do too much too soon. Spring Training is a process." Chapman had no reservations about that process possibly leading him to the Majors right away. "That decision comes only from the top, but I feel very capable and I prepared very hard for this opportunity," Chapman said. "I am looking forward to the challenge. I am more than capable to be a starter for Cincinnati."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.