Unfinished Chapman Impresses In Toledo
By John Wagner
TOLEDO—Some time soon, Cincinnati baseball fans may want to make April 10, 2010 a baseball holiday.
On the same day last year’s top draft pick, Mike Leake, made his professional debut with the Reds, Aroldis Chapman made his pro debut roughly 200 miles north in a Triple-A start against Toledo.
And the 22-year-old Cuban was impressive, shutting down the Mud Hens on five hits in 4 2/3 innings. Four of the five hits off the lefthander, who signed a six-year, $30.25 million contract with the Reds in January, never left the infield as Chapman struck out nine while walking only one.
“I was happy today—everything went the way I wanted it to,” Chapman said through an interpreter, Louisville trainer Tomas Vera. “There were some pitches that I didn’t throw the way I wanted, but overall I am happy.”
Chapman threw 85 pitches, 55 for strikes, but those weren’t the numbers that were most impressive. What caught the attention of the 5,642 fans at the game were the five times the southpaw reached 100 miles per hour or more on the stadium speed gun, as well as 32 pitches that topped 95.
“Given time, he’s going to be ready to pitch in the big leagues,” Louisville manager Rick Sweet said of Chapman. “The stuff is there. He could go in the big leagues right now and have some success.
“But there are some things he needs to work on right now—pitcher’s fielding practice, bunting, a lot of things that go with the game that we need to catch him up on.”
Chapman’s final pitch of the day highlighted his need for fielding polish. With the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, he got Brennan Boesch to hit a slow roller down the first-base line.
But Chapman didn’t cover first base right away, and Boesch beat him to the bag for a single that scored the lone unearned run charged against him.
“He was throwing a lot of pitches up in the zone, which was very effective because, with that velocity, it’s hard to catch up to it,” Boesch said. “You don’t have a lot of time to make a good decision on it.
“My goal wasn’t to hit a little bleeder, but I went up there with a two-strike approach—I just wanted to put the ball in play. What did happen is what can happen when you put the ball in play.
“I got some luck, but at the same time I did what I wanted to do.”
The Mud Hens hit just three balls out of the infield against Chapman, who topped 90 mph 57 times—43 of which went for strikes—and had only one of his 85 pitches under 80—a 79 mph slider in the second.
Chapman threw more breaking pitches in the fourth, striking out two of the three hitters he faced that inning.
“The reason I used the breaking pitch is because I wanted to depend on all of my pitches, not just my fastball,” Chapman said.
“I thought my fastball was good, but a lot of the changeups didn’t come in the way I wanted them too. The location wasn’t what I wanted, so I wasn’t happy with it.”
Sweet said Chapman has been working with Reds coaches on his breaking pitches.
“He’s got a pretty good breaking pitch,” Sweet said of Chapman’s slider. “They’ve made a few changes that have made it (break) bigger.
“But the changeup is the pitch he has been working on, so it was nice to see him throw some changeups that caused hitters some problems.”
One note of caution: Chapman’s nine strikeouts came against a Toledo team that had struck out 28 times in its previous three games. Two days earlier Bats teammate Travis Wood fanned nine Hens in four innings, while Matt Maloney collected eight whiffs in 5 2/3 innings the day before Chapman’s start.
“Today he walked one (here), but (if he’s pitching) in the big leagues he walks eight,” Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. “Guys in the big leagues wouldn’t have swung at balls over their heads or a foot outside (that we swung at).
“When he would throw a breaking ball—and we were cheating to catch up to the fastball—we would swing at pitches that weren’t even close to the plate. It wouldn’t have worked in the big leagues.”
Parrish said Chapman also could smooth out some flaws in his pitching motion.
“He doesn’t stay over the rubber very well,” Parrish said. “He gets way out in front and the arm is either dragging or flying trying to catch up.
“Actually, when we had a guy on base and he quickened his delivery from 1.8 (seconds to the plate) to 1.4, he kept himself together better at 1.4 and threw a better quality of strikes.”
But don’t misunderstand: Parrish was impressed.
“He does have a fast arm, and there’s good stuff there,” Parrish said. “Would you like to have him? Heck, yeah. But he’s not the finished product yet.”
It doesn’t seem as if it will be very long before Chapman joins Leake in the Reds’ rotation, based on the lefty’s first start in Toledo.
“You win a World Series with starting pitching,” Sweet said. “The fact that we’ve got Chapman in Triple-A, and we’ve got Leake starting in Cincinnati and (Edinson) Volquez coming back, too, means we’ve got a lot depth in the organization when it comes to starting pitching.
“I think the Reds have a bright future based on their starting pitching.”
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