Chapman ready to take big stage
Hard-throwing Cuban set for spring debut
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
03/07/10 4:27 PM EST
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Much like the unveiling of a highly-anticipated concept car at the auto show, the Reds will debut their big and bold investment on Monday.
For the first time this spring, when the Reds play the Royals at Goodyear Ballpark, Cuban pitching sensation Aroldis Chapman will face batters wearing different uniforms and his stadium performance will be open to the public.
Chapman, who is competing for the fifth spot in Cincinnati's rotation, will work out of the bullpen behind starter Bronson Arroyo against Kansas City during the 2:05 p.m. CT game.
"He'll be all right," Reds catcher Ramon Hernandez said. "He's been playing baseball a long time. It'll be exciting to see him and see how he does."
Since Spring Training has opened, Chapman has gone through the regular paces of any other pitcher in camp. The 22-year-old has thrown in bullpen sessions and live batting practice vs. teammates. He also pitched one scoreless inning against Reds hitters on Thursday in an intrasquad game that was closed to the public.
Moving to a bigger stage shouldn't negatively affect Chapman, as far as Reds manager Dusty Baker was concerned.
"If you've pitched in front of the world and you've pitched for food, you know what I mean? I expect him to do well,' Baker said on Sunday. "I don't think any league he's going to play in will compare to that, when you've pitched for food."
Because of Sunday's rainout against the Brewers, the Reds juggled their pitching assignments and briefly assigned Chapman to start a "B" game Monday morning on a practice field. Then it was quickly decided to put Chapman back on the list to face Kansas City. Homer Bailey will start the "B" game instead.
"We thought this would get [Chapman] more acclimated," Baker said. "We'll let Chapman pitch in the big arena."
Several members of the national media are expected to turn out to see Chapman's spring debut, which won't be televised. For months, there has been intense interest in the young and unpolished left-hander from Cuba, who is able to throw a fastball 100 mph.
Chapman defected from Cuba in July during a tournament in the Netherlands. After he was declared a free agent in September, numerous teams watched him work out and the bidding for his services was brisk. Quietly, the Reds remained in the hunt the whole time and shocked everyone when they emerged as the team to land Chapman with a six-year deal worth $30.25 million.
Cincinnati's front office has maintained that it will give Chapman a legitimate look for the fifth spot, partially depending on how he adjusts to big league life and American culture. Starting in the Minors is also a viable option. How he does in game situations will also play a large role in the decision-making process.
Micah Owings, Matt Maloney, Travis Wood, Justin Lehr and Mike Lincoln are also competing for the fifth spot.
Through the first few weeks of camp, Chapman has pleasantly surprised the Reds by being more advanced than expected. Many reports knocked his lack of secondary pitches beyond the fastball, but Chapman has shown great command of his changeup and slider and has repeatedly baffled the Reds' hitters that have stepped into the box.
"I feel good about the camp so far and I feel good about my condition," Chapman said through an interpreter. "I feel really good about the changeup. I'm working really hard on it and I think it's going to get better."
During Thursday's intrasquad, Chapman threw 17 pitches, including 12 for strikes. His only hit allowed was a Yonder Alonso double. Chapman twice reached 97 mph on the radar gun and dipped down with an 82-mph changeup that tied up batter Wilkin Castillo's bat into knots. The only mistake the pitcher made was nailing Todd Frazier in the right leg with a 95-mph fastball. Frazier had to come out of the game but would be OK.
Now, it will be the Royals' turn to see what they can do against Chapman.
"I've never seen him throw but he's throwing Monday and hopefully I'll get a chance to see what he's got," Royals first baseman Billy Butler said. "Not many people throw 100 miles an hour, let alone a lefty, so I think he deserves everything he got. That's an impressive arm."
The only member of the Royals that knows what hitters might be dealing with is catcher Brayan Pena, who is also a Cuban defector. Before Chapman signed, Pena caught one of his bullpen sessions in Miami.
Other Cuban Major Leaguers like Kendry Morales and Yuniesky Betancourt were also present and Pena noted that everyone was in awe.
"His fastball has got tremendous life and he's got pretty good control," Pena said. "I was so impressed. Kendry Morales was hitting against him in live BP and he was telling me that he hasn't seen a left-hander that throws that hard in a while in the big leagues or the Dominican or in Triple-A. He was pretty impressive -- he's probably 6-foot-4 or 6-5 and he's got pretty long arms and when he pitches, he looks like he's giving you a handshake. That's how close you see him.
"I hope he has a great career in the big leagues. He's a very good kid."