Certainly one of the most hyped-up members of this free agent class, 21-year old Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman has seen his share of media coverage since he first defected earlier this year, during the much maligned World Baseball Classic.
The 6'4" lefty has been a kind of enigma since, though he is one of the hardest throwing lefties around (he's supposedly been clocked at around 102 mph), he's known to have some control and mechanical issues. Despite this, he's managed to excite people into proclaiming him the best pitcher Cuba has ever seen and inspire thoughts of him getting a contract upwards of $40 million earlier this year. Those speculations have since dropped down to earth a bit, but a lot of teams are still very excited by the prospect of him, including the Red Sox.
Is Chapman's potential ceiling enough to offset his risk to the club? After the jump we'll talk a little more about him and then watch some videos.
A few weeks ago, Chapman did the rounds of a few teams and stopped off in Fenway. He was supposedly going to throw off of the mound, but the weather was bad and I haven't found any reports of whether he actually ended up throwing. In any case, all reports are that the Sox were impressed enough with him that he walked away with a $15.5 million contract offer- so far I haven't seen offers from any other teams publicly declared, so it's possible it's the only one he's had to date.
Tuesday, however, he had his first public workout and bullpen session, in Houston. Scouts and GMs from about 14 different teams including, of course, a scout from the Red Sox, who are growing to become the main players in the IFA market between such signings as Daisuke Matsuzaka, Junichi Tazawa, and Jose Iglesias (another Cuban defector and former teammate of Chapman's).
So far the reports of todays session are few, but very positive. According to ESPN's Jorge Arangure Jr., he was very impressive, seeming in shape and ready to pitch and showing no obvious issues with his makeup on the mound, having made some mechanical changes from his pitching in the past. His fastballs generally were around 92-93 mph and topped out at 96, as well as demonstrating a slider and a changeup. All of this, of course, was without a batter, which can always change everything.
But enough of what he's done today. Let's watch a couple of videos and discuss what we can see from him.
This first one is the longest. It's basically him, at age 19, striking out a variety of batters from the 2007 Baseball World Cup. Keep in mind that in this video, he is 19 years old.
The pitch that surprised me the most was his slider, which looks like it has some pretty nasty motion as it gets the the plate when he throws it right. It's nowhere near the velocity of his fastball.
His changeup looks surprisingly effective in this video, but is shockingly slow, one time clocking in at just 69 mph, which seems a little excessive to me.
In these videos, he doesn't show the wildness I expected, but it may be just the particular at bats they chose to show here.
His delivery frightens me a little bit, it looks like a throwing style that would be very rough on the arm after a long time, but I'm certainly no expert on pitching mechanics. It also looks to me like he is releasing his fastball at a lower arm slot than his other pitches, which may not bode well for him in the big leagues.
This is the shortest one. It's one pitch from 2009 in the World Baseball Classic at Petco Park and really shows nothing useful except how wildly unpopular the WBC is in this country. Just look at how many empty seats there are around.
This one is a longer one, also from the 2009 WBC, and also, incidentally, on my birthday. It is Cuba against Australia.
In this, to me, the 21 year old Chapman looks much worse than his 19-year-old self did in the very limited clips I've had available. He is throwing harder- throwing mostly around 94-97, and topping out at 100 mph, but looks much more wild, having serious issues finding the zone. His changeup is higher velocity than in the first video, sitting usually around 78-80 (the slowest one I noticed was 75), so maybe he found it was too hittable when it was so slow and adapted it.
Frankly if this is more like what Chapman tends to pitch like, he has a long, long way to go before he has a real possibility of being anything more than a reliever- he's just far too wild and throwing far too many pitches to look like he could effectively perform as a Major League starter.
I think if he joined the Sox, he could probably start in AA- especially if his former teammate Iglesias is there- and possibly work his way up to a September callup as a mop-up reliever- like Tazawa did in the end of last year- but I wouldn't project him as really being ready to really join the big league club before late 2011- probably about the same time-frame as Kelly if he performs optimally. He will have serious issues to work out, however. Apart from his probable control and possible delivery issues, he would have to adjust to performing in a whole new climate than he is used to- pitching in Cuba is not much like April or October in New England. This would certainly take at least a solid year to adapt to.
I would probably say (if the money is still available after this extravagant week) that if he was willing to accept the $15.5 for say a 3-year contract, I think it would be worth the risk. Probably if the price gets higher, it is not worth bidding for him, because there's a very big chance that he just won't be able to adapt properly to be an MLB starter. There are still a lot of question marks about him, since still no one has seen how he pitches against the level of competition in MLB.
These are my rambling thoughts. Any discussions? Thoughts? Things in my analysis you completely disagree with?