First impressions of Aroldis Chapman: Oh, my
Today, I got my first glimpse of Aroldis Chapman, the rookie Cuban left-hander signed this winter for $30.25 million by the Cincinnati Reds, and it was about as impressive a debut as I can ever recall witnessing. (At least until Tuesday.)
The setting was Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Ariz., with the Reds facing the Kansas City Royals in what was Chapman's Cactus League debut. (The weather: overcast and 58 degrees. How do these people live like this?)
Having seen Stephen Strasburg pitch a number of times, I was curious to see how Chapman compared. And having spoken to a few scouts who had seen Chapman already, I was expecting to see a pitcher a little less polished, a little less proficient with his secondary pitches and a little less fast with the fastball. (Whereas Strasburg mostly pitches at 96-98 mph with an occasional 100 or 101, Chapman, I had heard, was mostly 94-95 with touches of 97 or 98.)
But on Monday, the scouts sitting behind home plate all had Chapman clocked consistently at 97-98, with at least one fastball reaching 100. (One scout registered a 102, but no one else had him that high. I think his gun was on steroids.)
Chapman faced a very representative Royals lineup, and retired five of the seven batters he faced, three of them by strikeout. The only hit was a sharp single to left by Royals catcher (and Chapman's countryman) Brayan Pena. He overthrew a couple of sliders, but he uncorked a beautiful one to strike out Rick Ankiel, the last batter Chapman faced. He only threw one change up -- on a 3-2 count to Brian Anderson -- which Anderson took for ball four.
It may be nitpicking, but Chapman's command wasn't great: he fell behind 3-1 once and 2-0 twice. He also didn't show a very good pickoff move to first.
The Reds appear inclined to start Chapman in the minor leagues this season -- as the Nationals are inclined to do with Strasburg. But after seeing Chapman pitch, all I can think of is what might have been if the Nationals, runners-up in the Chapman sweepstakes this winter, had both of these flamethrowers.
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