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At Second Glance, Aroldis Chapman Reveals Flaws, Needs Polish

Apr 29, 2010 – 2:15 AM
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Frankie Piliere

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Aroldis ChapmanSCRANTON, Pa. -- You learn new things each time you scout a player, and coming off his intrasquad debut all the way back in March, I had a decent feel for what Aroldis Chapman's upside was. What that outing could not tell me, however, is where Chapman has trouble, where his flaws are, and just how much work this young lefty needs before he's a finished product.

Most importantly, what it could not tell me was what exactly Chapman could project to be in the long-term. He has front-of-the-rotation stuff, but as I saw him for the second time on Wednesday night in Scranton I found myself getting a much better feel for what to expect from him and how quickly to expect it.

Before he even began to warmup to face the Yankees' Triple-A squad on Wednesday, one thing was clear -- weather was going to be an issue. The temperature dipped into the 40s and the wind didn't let up all night. For any pitcher, let alone one that has spent most of his life pitching Cuba, it was going to be a tough night.

Given the cold temperatures, it would be logical to figure that his triple-digit velocity wouldn't show up on such a night. That wasn't the case. Chapman did reach triple digits with the fastball, but consistency and feel for his secondary pitches were major issues throughout his six-inning outing.

In the first, Chapman started slowly, sitting around 93 mph and topping out at 95 mph. Over the first two frames, his velocity generally ranged between 93-96 mph, and by the third, the velocity that earned him $30 million began to show up in a big way. He was living at 96-99 mph and reached 100 mph twice over the course of the third and fourth inning.

After the velocity peaked, however, it came crashing down in a hurry in the final two innings of his outing. In the fifth, Chapman was suddenly barely breaking 90, living around 87-91 mph and topping out around 93. Even with his big spike in velocity in the middle of his outing, his velocity was incredibly erratic throughout the game. What that means is hard to say with any degree of certainty, but it could be that Chapman was trying to pace himself, but didn't quite know how.

At 96-100 mph, Chapman can get away with spotty command in the strike zone. But when he's letting off the fastball and pitching in the low-90s, his mistakes in the strike zone are going to be punished, and he learned that lesson quickly on Wednesday. David Winfree pounded a 93 mph fastball that got too much of the inside half of the plate over the left field fence in the bottom of the fourth inning, showing that he had no problem turning around that heat.

Hitters also were able to sit on the fastball, as Chapman showed no real consistent ability to spot his breaking ball or changeup. For a good portion of the game, his slider was barely a factor. One of the few he did throw in the strike zone also ended up in the seats, courtesy of Kevin Russo in the third inning.

The final line for Chapman (six innings pitched, five hits, three runs, two walks, four strikeouts) against the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees doesn't look all that bad, and as a whole the outing really wasn't bad. What it was, however, was very telling. He is not ready for the big leagues right now, at least as a starting pitcher. If the Cincinnati Reds are determined to develop him as a starter, he has a lot of things to work on before he's going to be ready for the show.

I was left with doubts that Chapman can be a starter over the long haul. If the Reds are willing to be patient, allow him to refine his command and get him to some point of consistency with his fastball velocity, the finished product could very well be a front-end starter. But there are many hurdles to jump before that can happen.

Right now, Chapman looks like a future closer, especially if you are in the camp that wants him at the big-league level sooner rather than later. He had real trouble pacing himself Wednesday and maintaining steady velocity, and the effort he puts into producing that velocity appears to fluctuate from pitch to pitch. Can he maintain 95-plus mph on the fastball over the course of 100 pitches? Not based on what I saw. He has a difficult delivery to repeat, and his command is going to be a battle for him until he's completely comfortable with his mechanics.

With fastball command clearly an issue, he's having a hard time even getting to his secondary pitches. Couple that with his trouble establishing a consistent pace and maintaining his velocity, and he profiles better in relief.

If you're hoping that Chapman will come up, start for the Reds and pitch lights out in the next couple months, prepare to be disappointed. He is one of the most physically gifted players I have seen. There's zero doubt about that. But he can not be looked at in the same light as a polished pitcher like Stephen Strasburg.

In short stints where he wouldn't need to worry about pacing himself, I have little doubt that he could live at 96-100 mph. Throwing with that type of velocity, and mixing in his plus slider, Chapman could instantly be the toughest lefty reliever in baseball.

Again, you could have that version of Chapman right now. The Reds are still best off taking their time and developing him as a starter, but this is going to be a process. Even with the poor conditions taken into consideration on Wednesday in Scranton, he revealed some very real flaws, and he is very far from a finished product.

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.
Filed under: Sports