Showtime For Aroldis Chapman
|12.15.09 at 2:35 pm ET|
It is entirely possible that the most pitched battle of the offseason begins anew today in Houston.
Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman is scheduled to have a workout in front of talent evaluators, including the Red Sox, Yankees and numerous other clubs from all market sizes (the A’s and Marlins, for example, are both reportedly interested). The 21-year-old is an international free agent whose door will be wide open to eight-figure bids.
Based on conversations with a handful of talent evaluators who have seen Chapman pitch in international competitions (most recently, last spring’s World Baseball Classic), the left-hander is described as possessing the sort of electric arm that leaves evaluators drooling. His fastball registered as high as 102 mph in the WBC, and he has shown the potential for a sharp, nasty slider.
That said, while Chapman comes with a big arm, he also comes with what the evaluators described as “a lot of risk” (a phrase that was connected to Chapman a few times). The last time that he was seen by many scouts was in the WBC last March. He’s considered fairly raw, and lost development time since he has not been tied to organized baseball since his defection early last July.
Though he showed incredible stuff in the WBC, he had an unimpressive 5.68 ERA in the tournament, walking four and striking out eight in his 6.1 innings spanning two games. Evaluators frowned that the southpaw yelled at teammates and umpires during the tournament, raising questions about his makeup and maturity (with the caveat that, at 21, he is quite young).
There is no denying the raw talent of Chapman. His ceiling is almost certainly that of a No. 1 starter. That said, the notion that he is a left-handed version of Stephen Strasburg – the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft who throws 100 with a hammer curve – may have been exaggerated.
All the same, because Chapman is a free agent, the bidding for his services promises to be intense. Sources at the Winter Meetings suggested that, since the pitcher changed representation from Edwin Mejia to the Hendricks Brothers last month, talk of a $40-60 million bonus has quieted. The new agents tabled murmurs about what the left-hander would seek, holding off on such notions until today’s workout. Even so, multiple evaluators believe that the contract that Strasburg got from the Nationals – a major-league deal for $15.1 million – will be used as a benchmark by Chapman.
Of course, given the report by ESPN’s Jorge Arangure that the Red Sox offered Chapman $15.5 million to sign when they met with the pitcher in November, it would appear all but certain that the 21-year-old will accomplish that goal.
Barring an injury, the question is not whether he will exceed Strasburg money. The issue is how far beyond that figure the bidding for his services will go.
That said, despite Chapman’s considerable gifts, evaluators were unanimous that he should not be regarded as being in the same class as Strasburg. Whereas Strasburg was viewed as virtually major-league ready at the time he was drafted, Chapman is described as requiring significant development before he would be major-league ready, particularly given the amount of time that he has had off.
And, while it will be tempting for teams to pour significant money into acquiring a pitcher with such incredible velocity, there are plenty of cautionary tales about hurlers who hit triple digits early in their careers before seeing their velocity plummet due to subsequent injuries.
One need look no further than Maels Rodriguez, believed to be the first Cuban pitcher to be clocked at more than 100 miles per hour earlier this decade. Rodriguez was a dominant force in Cuba by the time he turned 20, but injuries wrecked his career and velocity by the time he defected in 2003. He was drafted by Arizona in the 22nd round in 2005, but never played in the minors.
Rodriguez, however, was injured by the time he came to the States. Chapman does not come with any health-related red flags. Today, if he can offer a reminder in Houston of his unique combination of gifts – a 6-foot-4 left-hander who is 21 and throws over 100 miles an hour – Chapman will find a long line of teams bidding huge sums for his services.
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