So, just how good did Aroldis Chapman turn out to be? Was he worth the investment? Many of those questions obviously can't be answered yet. But we now have a very good idea about what the Reds saw and why they shelled out big money for him. The reason was simple: the talent is as good as it gets.
Traditionally, you need to see more from a player than a short intrasquad appearance to write a scouting report. Without a larger sample size, it's unfair to make conclusions about what a player will be. But, there are always observations to be made. Here is what I saw from Chapman on Thursday in Goodyear.
Physical Description: Chapman's lanky frame has been one of the few not so mysterious aspects of the Cuban southpaw's game. His body is going to play a major role in how he develops long-term. This is a fast-twitch muscle type of guy, and he does what he does -- throwing in the upper-90s -- because of this long, lean athleticism. His broad shoulders and baggy jersey give him the appearance of a coat hanger, and you have to figure he will add some bulk to his frame, but his long limbs and athleticism are what make him such a talent.
Mechanics: There is nothing unnatural about Chapman's delivery. What you look for in a raw pitcher like him is any awkwardness in his mechanics. It appears that the Reds have not tried to put his delivery into a cookie cutter. They are allowing the imperfections in his delivery to exist, at least for now. There are problems and inconsistencies with his mechanics but nothing glaring that could clearly lead to injury or durability issues. He makes mistakes, but more importantly he has a smooth arm action and appears to be putting minimal effort into pitching, even though he's reaching the upper-90s with the fastball.
The inconsistencies show up especially when he throws his changeup. While he threw some excellent ones, he also telegraphed a couple of others. Overall, though, that doesn't represent a major concern.
Fastball: This is where the conversation will always begin with Chapman. Try listing the left-handed pitchers over the years that could potentially live at 94-98 mph as a starting pitcher. That's what Cincinnati fans should be excited about. The first pitch Chapman threw as he warmed up before his inning of work was 96 mph, and given the minimal effort he put into it, it really says something about his strength.
Following a warm-up session that saw him living at 95-97 mph with the fastball, Chapman clearly took his foot off the gas pedal as the first hitters came to the plate. That also revealed another layer to his game. Coming down to 92-94 mph initially, he showed the ability to spot his fastball exceptionally well. Of course, you don't want him sacrificing velocity, but this lull definitely exposed another positive aspect of his game. After surrendering a long opposite-field double off the bat of Yonder Alonso, suddenly the huge velocity numbers returned. He began sitting at 96-97 mph, reaching as high as 98 with plus life through the strike zone.
On a consistent basis, hitters had fastballs on them quicker than they anticipated, showing the late hop on Chapman's fastball. There are pitchers that have plus velocity, but the velocity does not play as well against live opponents. Chapman is not one of those pitchers. He showed that he can consistently put an electric fastball by the bats of big-league hitters. One side note: Chapman appeared to be more comfortable from the stretch at times and produced a little more velocity there than he did from the windup.
Slider: The slider is what's going to make it very tempting for the Reds to put Chapman in the show right out of spring training. Sitting at 86-88 mph, he has a true slider with two-plane break. The break is late and sharp, and if he can learn to locate it consistently, it's a nearly unhittable offering against both left- and right-handed hitters. He left a couple up in the zone, but when they were down there was plenty of flinching, check swings, and jelly legs at the plate. If he can refine his command, this is a 7 pitch on the 2-8 scouting scale.
Changeup: Chapman's changeup is the obvious surprise in his repertoire. Word was he had the fastball and slider, but the changeup is a revelation. He's going to need to be far more consistent at selling his arm action and staying through the pitch. He spun off a couple of them in warm-ups and lost them high and away to his arm side. He threw some outstanding ones on the edges of the plate against live hitters, however. All coming in at 82 mph, it's going to be downright unfair to big-league hitters if he can throw this pitch for strikes. It has the fading action and differential to one day grade out as a plus offering.
The Reds could put Aroldis Chapman in the major league bullpen right now and probably get some great things out of him. He'd have his bad days simply because he's not consistent enough yet with his mechanics and does appear to lack focus at times, but for the most part he'd simply overwhelm hitters on pure stuff. His repertoire is that dynamic.
That does not, however, make it the right course of action. Chapman has the makings of three plus pitches, and a chance to be very durable given his large frame and how easily he produces velocity. He should be developed in the minors for a period of time as a starter. Backing up third base, not getting lazy with his mechanics and learning when to slow the game down when things go wrong -- these are all things Chapman has to work on and struggled with in his spring training debut. He has flaws that should be fixed.
Let's look at the big picture, though. Chapman, at 100 percent effort, could be a starting pitcher with a 94-98 mph fastball, a plus slider in the upper-80s, and a plus changeup in the low-80s. With that type of repertoire, his tall frame, and his handedness, there is almost no precedent. Is he raw? Most definitely. Given his inconsistencies could he flame out? Yes. But, this is the type of talent you invest your money in, because it just does not come along often.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.