Friday, May 21, 2010

Scouting Trip #4: Louisville Bats (Reds AAA) at Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies AAA)

After a week or two without anything to write about I was given a gift from the baseball gods: Aroldis Chapman was coming to the Lehigh Valley.

Chapman is a lanky, 6'4" Cuban left-hander with an interesting back story. He was expected to turn into the ace of Cuba's national team for things like the Olympics and World Baseball Classic, but Chapman had other ideas. He tried to defect from Cuba in 2008 but failed. In July of 2009 at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands, Chapman fled the team in the middle of the night and established residency in the Pyranees principality of Andorra. This was necesary because if Chapman had become a U.S. citizen, he would have been subject to the MLB Draft, where his earning power would have been limited by MLB's slotting system and service time clock. As a foreign player, he was classified as a free agent, which created a bidding war for his services. The Reds won that war, and inked Chapman to a six year, $30 million contract. In contrast, Stephen Strasburg, a far superior prospect, signed for 4 years and $15 million, with a $7.5 million signing bonus. Chapman had to establish residency in any country other than America in order to enjoy the benefits of the free market. Ironic.

On the Baseball side of things, Chapman's fastball has quite a reputation. He touched 102mph while pitching in Cuba and 100mph in the World Baseball Classic.

Here's what I took in on Wednesday night, Chapman and otherwise:

Aroldis Chapman LHP Cincinnati Reds

Chapman's fastball:

Velocity was good, but not as electric as advertised. The overall range was 88-98 mph. The low velocities (high eighties) came late in Chapman's start (80 pitches in) and are either the result of fatigue or the blister he left the game with shortly thereafter. He sat mostly in the low to mid nineties throughout the game, amping up to high velocities when guys got on base.

Aroldis throws the fastball alot. 75 of his 96 pitches were heaters. 16 of 18 atbats were led off with a fastball. All 14 of Chapman's firt 14 pitches...fastballs. Only 7 of those 14 were thrown for strikes, so it took Chapman a little while to get into a rhythm.

Major league hitters will jump all over a pitch that is thrown this often. Chapman must either mix other pitches in more often, build up enough stamina to consistently use a fastball in the mid to upper 90s, or be moved to the bullpen where he can let it rip without having to worry about wearing down.

Chapman's Slider:

It's filthy. The slider sat between 81 and 85 during his start. With sharp movement and tilt, it is a true swing and miss pitch. Chapman threw 9 sliders, 7 of them for strikes and 5 of those were singing strikes. But he only threw it 10% of the time. While I understand Chapman has had problems with walking guys and the team probably wanted him to throw lots of fastballs just to start throwing strikes again, I'd like to see more sliders out of him.

Chapman's other stuff:

Chapman also throws a curve and a changeup. The curve is alot like that of Cole Hamels. It is just another pitch for hitters to think about. Chapman threw it for a strike 3 of 5 times and only coaxed a swing with one of them.

The changeup is lousy. Chapman threw 6 of them and 5 of them were balls. The only strike he got with it was from John Mayberry Jr. who was cheating fastball and guessed wrong. Chapman's arm speed is noticeably slower when he throws the change. He airmailed it once or twice, so his feel for the awkward grip required to throw the change is poor.

Misc stuff: Chapman pitches just as well from the stretch as he does from the windup. His pickoff move was, to me at least, average. The IronPigs baserunners may think differently, however, as two of them were picked off during the game. My vantage point during the game was not condusive of judging the lateral movment on Chapman's fastball.

My Final Assessment:

Aroldis Chapman has two dominant, major league pitches in his repetoire at age 22. He has the frame (6'4") to handle a full workload of major league innings as he physically matures. If he can iron out his control issues even slightly, he'll be a #1 starter. Worst case scenario, the Reds are sitting on a dominant late-inning arm.

Random stuff: 96 pitches, 63 for strikes...76% fastballs...3 hits allowed, 3 walks allowed (2 of them came in 6th inning when Chapman was clearly having blister trouble)...7 strikeouts...54% first pitch strikes...2 of 3 hits against were for extra bases...3:4 Groundball to Flyball ratio

Other dudes you should know about:

Yonder Alonso 1b/LF Cincinatti Reds

Alonso played first in college at The U. His bat is just about major league ready even though he's just 23 years old, but Joey Votto is so damn good that there's not enough room for Yonder. It was obvious the Reds were going to have to try one of them in Left Field eventually, and now Alonso is guinea pigging it in the outfield. While I was too busy focusing on Chapman to judge Alonso's aptitude in the outfiled, I was very attentive while he was in the batter's box. He lays off anything thats not a fastball. The way his swing loads up may allow good fastballs to sneak past him. He worked the count into his favor in most of his atbats, allowing him to get that fastball he likes to swing at. While he was 0-5, you can see signs of a middle of the order bat.

Todd Frazier 2b/3b/OF Cincinatti Reds

Frazier, a Rutgers grad, was labeled the #1 prospect in the Reds system by Baseball America. What I saw Wednesday night from Frazier and what he has been doing all season at the plate is making them look bad. Frazier showed poor discipline in every atbat. His swing was as balanced as drunk guy on a row boat. I was very disappointed. I hope he gets it together because everything I've read about Frazier talks up his attitude and work ethic. I also have a soft spot for guys with versatility, and Frazier can handle as many as 6 defensive positions. He's a mess at the plate right now and needs coaching in the worst way.

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