As some/many/all of you know, coveted LHP Albertin Aroldis Chapman de la Cruz (better known simply as Aroldis Chapman) recently signed a 6-year, $30.25 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds (leading to jokes of “How long will it take before his agent tells him he signed with the Reds, not the Red Sox?”). Although #1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg is more polished and appears to have a brighter future, he was only able to muster a 4-year, $15.1 million contract from the Washington Nationals. Granted, the Nationals weren’t bidding against anyone else, but I still find it curious that a Cuban defector with questions surrounding him was able to get a better contract than a guy that some people think will be major-league ready sometime next season.
Enough of the comparisons. My point of this post is to discuss Chapman’s future in Cincinnati. From what I’ve read, it sounds like this is a guy that has some makeup issues (I’m not sure of what kind, but think of someone like Delmon Young) and has “many moving parts” in his windup. Basically, it sounds like if one little thing gets out of whack, it’ll take a while before a pitching coach can get him in sync again. However, this comes with the bonus that he’s only 21 years old, throws lefthanded, and throws in the mid-90s.* If he learns how to pitch in the major leagues, theoretically he should become a very dominant pitcher.
* Some reports keep pointing out that he touched 100+ MPH in the World Baseball Classic, but other sources say that it shouldn’t be expected that he can touch that consistently.
If Chapman does make it into the major leagues with Cincinnati, he’ll want to make sure he keeps his strikeout totals up. Consider that his home park will be the Great American Ballpark, which ranked 6th highest in home runs in 2009. Remember those moving parts? If he can’t consistently repeat his delivery, it sounds like he’ll be walking just about anyone that will step into the batter’s box and also could serve up quite a few gopher balls as well, since strikeout pitchers tend to be flyball pitchers as well.* If he wants to succeed in the majors, he should count on getting quite a few strikeouts while trying to keep the ball in the park.
* I’m making these assumptions without looking at any of Chapman’s stats. If this bothers you, sue me. You’re not getting much. Besides, John Bonnes at Twins Geek just taught me how I can gain 15% or more on my tax return by switching to Geek-o. You can sue me, but I’ll still end up with a net gain of income by the end of the year.
Lastly, and maybe one of biggest concern to me, is Dusty Baker. Now we can’t guarantee that he’ll be managing the Reds by the time Chapman joins the Reds (whenever that may be) but for this, let’s just assume that he will be Chapman’s manager in the future. Baker is the manager Bert Blyleven would love; he loves leaving his starting pitchers in the game much longer than recent common sense dictates. Due to this reluctance of removing his starters, he’s received blame for derailing the careers of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior while they were with the Cubs. It’s debatable over how much these injuries were caused by Baker’s usage, but it’s clear that he’s not interested in protecting a young pitcher’s arm.
If Chapman and Baker are united together, one has to worry about Chapman’s future. It’s very possible that a torn labrum or Tommy John surgery will be waiting for him just around the corner. Assuming that the Reds keep playing below .500 over the next season(s), Baker could be send packing before Chapman even reaches the majors.* I think projections that he’ll be MLB-ready in 2010 are a bit exaggerated anyway, so even though I’m not a Reds fan, for Chapman’s sake I hope Baker is not his manager.
* Because as sports has taught me, even if the players are incapable of winning, there is always a coach that is capable of making them win. At least Wolves GM David Kahn avoided this by signing Kurt Rambis to a 4-year contract, basically avoiding the inevitable “Look, if the team doesn’t show any improvement in 2 years, regardless of who I give you to use on this roster, you’re out of here.” At least he’s not Dayton “I’d be good at politics because I never do what I say I will” Moore.
Is Aroldis Chapman going to be a good pitcher? Probably. I was praying that he would not end up a Yankee, Met, Red Sox, etc. and I got my wish when he joined the Reds. He has a chance to be something special, but I just hope that if he fails, it’s from his own doing. Don’t let a coach ruin this for him.