Aroldis Chapman Has Future in Reds' Rotation, but Bullpen Awaits in 2011
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- One look at the Cincinnati starting rotation and it seems clear that it's first-class.
And that's without left-hander Aroldis Chapman in it.
Chapman, the Cuban refugee who made the jump to the big leagues last year as a reliever, is going to remain a reliever in 2011, pitching coach Bryan Price told FanHouse Tuesday.
Price is quick to point out that ultimately the Reds see the 22-year-old lefty as a dominant starting pitcher, but that time has not yet come. Cincinnati is loaded in the rotation with Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez at the top and Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Travis Wood ready to do battle for the fourth and fifth spots when the Reds start spring training with a first workout Thursday.
"This is a rotation that you just feel like could be good for a good long time," Price said. "Bronson just signed a three-year extension, and he's the veteran."
Indeed he is. None of the other five men mentioned by Price have much more than three seasons' worth of big league time. They have all experienced some success, which means Cincinnati doesn't feel Chapman and his 100-mph fastball need to be rushed into starting when the organization would like to see him work in the bullpen for at least this season.
If the Reds could corral Chapman's tendency to throw too many pitches, they'd be happy, and they think with him throwing short relief, it's the best way to learn that particular trait.
"I think over the course of his career this kid will be given the opportunity to start," said Price, pictured at right. "My feeling today is that he fills a need for us with (left-handed setup man) Arthur Rhodes now in Texas.
"And there are other considerations. As much as people want comparisons like to Randy Johnson with both being tall, lanky, left-handed and hard throwers, you know that (Chapman) will throw a lot of pitches, as Randy did. He is going to be in some high-pitch count situations, and so you are looking at a lot of four-, five- and six-inning starts as he get comfortable in the league. It will benefit him to tighten everything up, and that will make the starting thing better when he gets there."
Chapman began the 2010 season at Triple-A Louisville and made it to Cincinnati by the end of August, going 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA in 13 appearances. Along the way, his fastball averaged 100 mph and he topped out at 105, the fastest clocking ever given to a major league pitcher.
Still, there are issues. While he struck out 19 in 13 1/3 innings, he has control issues. He walked only five in the big leagues, but in 95 2/3 innings for Louisville he walked 52, far too many for a manager or pitching coach to feel comfortable.
"Make no mistake, as a left-handed setup man he fills a real need for us," Price said. "At the same time I think pitching in short relief will help him get better command of the strike zone."
And, as Price said, the rotation in Cincinnati seems set for success, whether or not Chapman is part of it.
Arroyo won 17 games last year, his third consecutive season with at least 15 wins for the Reds, and he's had at least 200 innings in each of the last six seasons. Cueto had the best record (12-7) and lowest ERA (3.64) of his three-year career. Volquez, a 17-game winner and an All-Star in 2008, is finally healthy again.
Bailey (19 starts), Wood (17) and Leake (22) all had their moments in 2010, and the unheralded Leake was the club's best starter the first couple of months of the season.
"I think we can be very good," Price said. "I don't even need to explain why; it's there in the black and white numbers. So we don't have to push Chapman. We don't need to stockpile innings on him at this stage of his career.
"But down the road will he start? I think he will."