About Aroldis Chapman
Coming into the 2009 season, there were three pitchers in their early 20s that were singled out as having the talent to be MLB stars in the future: San Diego Stateâ€™s Stephen Strasburg, Nippon Hamâ€™s Yu Darvish, and HolguÃnâ€™s Aroldis Chapman. Strasburg, as we all know, went number one overall, and Darvish has indicated no real desire to move to the MLB, but Chapman, who defected months ago while Cuba was playing in Rotterdam, has declared residency in Andorra and is eligible to sign as a free agent any time now.
Last weekend, Larry Stone profiled Chapman for the Times, alluding to the Mâ€™s interest and listing them as one of the teams in attendance when he threw a bullpen session in Madrid. Most of it is the standard fare; the Mâ€™s are players because they have money and Chapman has pitched against Ichiro in the WBC and knows about Felix, for whatever thatâ€™s worth. His agent, relative unknown Edwin Mejia, has thrown out the familiar line of his guy being the type of player that â€œcomes across every 40 or 50 yearsâ€, and word is that Chapman is going to want $60m on the market, nearly double what Jose Contreras got from the Yankees years ago. So, is he worth it?
There are a few videos of Chapman pitching in online, from the â€˜07 World Cup, to â€™09 WBC preliminaries, to his WBC stint earlier in the year. Theâ€™07 video shows why it would be easy to get excited about him. Heâ€™s not the archetypal pitcher, heâ€™s long-limbed and tends to throw from a high three-quarters slot like heâ€™s slinging the ball to the plate, but the ball jumps out of his hands, looking much faster than the low-90s it was being clocked at, and has tremendous lateral movement. The follow-through is also workable, in that he doesnâ€™t fall over, despite taking a few steps forward on some landings, and he manages to keep his eyes on the glove as heâ€™s pitching. The curve, his second best pitch, was a low-70s offering, nothing eye-popping in terms of vertical break, but an effective pitch and one he seemed comfortable with. Heâ€™d only bust out the slider every now and then, which would come in about five to ten MPH faster and functioned as a third pitch.
The â€™09 videos are a bit more revealing, being slightly more than the standard highlight reel. All his pitches seem to have gained a few MPH and heâ€™s now throwing in the mid-90s with his fastball on a regular basis. This is out of line with his hype of hitting 102 on the radar gun. He can reach back for triple-digits, and I saw him do it, but this was not a regular occurrence. He seemed to have additional confidence with his slider and was more readily throwing it. The talent is all there, and he seems to be progressing, and those cover enough positives to warrant interest.
The negatives? Chapman is fundamentally a thrower. One would gather as much given that he ranked near the top in walks and wild pitches, in addition to strikeouts, during his tenure with HolguÃn. The same came out in the WBC. What I saw was his showing against Australia (going against former Mariner Travis Blackley), not the Japan game in which he ran into trouble. Even so, there were flaws that would be exposed elsewhere. His delivery has gone even higher over the past couple of years, but itâ€™s as inconsistent as it was before. His tempo and his release points are both uneven. When he gets more over the top, he loses his fastball command. Itâ€™s difficult to say why heâ€™d even be throwing there either, as his curves were best around three-quarters. So, the delivery, while not setting off injury warnings, is going to need ironing out in order for him to be in any way efficient.
As a result, he was giving the catcher a workout and probably hit his spots less than half the time. When he was missing, it tended to be up in the zone. Thus, the majority of his outs seem to come in the air. The other thing is that his fastball, when moving, tends to dart into the right-handed batterâ€™s box and down. If heâ€™s capable of pitching in to left-handers, I didnâ€™t see him do it much, not that he really needed to. Chapman seems to live and die by his fastball command. Even with the tight, but unspectacular curve, the fastball was his out pitch, and more Ks came on that than any other.
Weâ€™re due to see the bidding war start any time now, with the usual competitors in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels. Chapman may get a huge paycheck, but realistically, youâ€™re looking at a guy who isnâ€™t going to be MLB-ready from the get-go. Iâ€™d put him as a year or so split between double and triple-A at least, just to get the mechanics in order. After that, youâ€™re still hoping that the breaking pitches manage to develop a little more. They have so far, and are fine for how he uses them, but I wouldnâ€™t call them plus pitches, or signature weapons (that would still be the fastball). If the bidding starts to get out of hand, and it might, I think the Mâ€™s would be better served going after Japanese prep left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who will be meeting with teams next week in advance of the Oct. 29th NPB draft, and maybe adding Taiwanese right-hander Chih-lung Huang, who is also mulling over the idea of jumping the pond. You could probably pick up both and then some for less than itâ€™s going to take to get Chapman alone.