Height 6-4, Weight 185, B/T: L/L, DOB: 2/28/1988
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: NA
Chapman is the type of player who could completely change the fortunes of an organization. These types of players are obviously few and far between. The Reds squandered their last opportunity to acquire the services of such a player. The organization passed on Tim Lincecum in favor of Drew Stubbs in the 2005 draft. And, quite seriously, I'm not sure any draft pick in MLB history has ever come with a higher opportunity cost.
Stubbs is undoubtedly intriguing, but he's still struggling to establish himself at the MLB level, while Lincecum has already run out of shelf space for all his Cy Young awards. I can't recall any prospect having such an immediate impact and performing at such an elite level. Not only did Lincecum pay off almost immediately, but he completely changed the fortunes of the San Francisco Giants organization. In baseball, it is a rare talent who can almost single-handedly advance an organization forward on the win curve.
Lincecum is that kind of talent. So is Chapman. Of course, Chapman has a long way to go to reach that ceiling, but the ability is certainly there.
Chapman was slated to be the next ace pitcher on the Cuban national team. However, Aroldis had a different idea. He first attempted to defect in 2008, but was unsuccessful. The attempt resulted in Chapman being left off the 2008 Cuban team for the Beijing Olympics. He worked his way back into the good graces of the Castro brothers in time for the World Baseball Classic.
In the WBC, Chapman made two starts and went 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA. He lost to the Japanese team, lasting only 2 innings, which probably wasn't surprising. In some respects, the Japanese team is the worst possible matchup for Chapman. The Japanese teams are always extremely fundamentally sound. They may not have the best tools, but they will not do anything to beat themselves. When facing a pitcher like Chapman, who is equal parts erratic and electric, it is a big advantage when you force him to beat you. If you aren't willing to expand the zone and help him out by chasing pitches, then you increase your chances of exploiting the weaknesses of his game. If you don't give away outs needlessly on the bases, then you force him to earn everything he gets.
Shortly after the WBC, Chapman again tried to defect, but with drastically different results. He successfully defected, set up residency in Andorra, and became an international free agent under MLB rules. In one of the biggest surprises of recent memory, the Reds flew in under the radar and signed Chapman to a 6-year, $30.25M contract. The Reds acted decisively and outbid both the Red Sox and Yankees.
PHYSICAL BUILD AND REPERTOIRE
Chapman stands 6-4 and weighs in at 190 pounds. He has a tall, lean, lanky frame that allows him to throw on a significant downward plane. He also has long limbs and fingers. These longer levers give him greater leverage and arm speed to impart on the ball. Chapman has a very quick pitching arm in his delivery, which is part of the reason why he has one of the best arms in the world. Chapman generates some of the best and easiest velocity I've ever seen. It's really remarkable to see a pitcher reach triple digit velocity with such an easy delivery. Typically when a pitcher can throw that fast, it's the result of a lot of labor and effort. Not so with Chapman.
Chapman features a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and touches 101 mph. It grades out as a true 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His secondary offerings are not comparable to his plus-plus fastball, but include a curveball, slider, and changeup. At this point, Chapman remains more of a thrower than a pitcher, but his upside rivals that of just about anyone, anywhere.
Chapman stands tall on the rubber with his hands in front of his chest and his glove-side foot positioned down in front of the rubber. From that position, he strides directly towards third base. Once his stride foot lands, he un-weights his left foot and rotates it down on the rubber. At this point, he has a slight pause in his delivery. After the hesitation, Chapman continues his delivery and brings his glove-side leg up into his leg kick.
The apex of Chapman's leg kick exceeds parallel to the ground and he points his toe down towards the ground. The height on Chapman's leg kick creates significant potential energy in his delivery. Additionally, when his leg kick begins to approach its apex, Chapman begins to rotate his lead hip inward. Chapman incorporates such significant hip rotation into his delivery that he almost shows his back to the hitters.
By wrapping his leg kick and coiling his body, Chapman creates even more potential energy. By rotating his hips against his stationary plant leg, Chapman creates tension that he can release as he unpacks his leg kick and drives towards the plate.
Chapman gets good push off the rubber and utilizes good lower body drive towards the plate. As he unpacks his leg kick and drives to the plate, Chapman utilizes a very long stride. In fact, the aggressiveness and sheer length of his stride reminds me a bit of Tim Lincecum. Both seem to almost leap up off the rubber towards the plate.
Due to his height and longer stride, Chapman actually releases the ball a bit closer to the plate than other pitchers. As a result, the pitch gets on hitters a bit quicker, which makes it seem even faster.
As for his arm action, it's pretty clean. He uses more of a three-quarter arm slot instead of a pure over the top arm slot. He keeps his elbow in good position relative to his shoulder. The timing on his arm action is also good, as his arm is up in proper throwing position when his plant foot lands. Chapman's longer levers give his arm action a bit of a whip-like action.
So, Chapman has several key components necessary for generating plus velocity. He is tall and has long arms, so he releases the ball closer to the plate. He has a well above average body coil and a high leg kick. And, most importantly, he simply has a very strong, quick arm.
Here are a few looks at Aroldis in action:
As for potential issues, after reaching the apex of his leg kick, Chapman has a tendency to break down his back leg. He flexes his knee a bit more than normal, which could lead to inconsistency.
In light of his height and longer arms, it's more of a challenge for Chapman to keep all the parts of his delivery in sync. The whip action created by his longer levers also brings struggles to maintain a consistent arm slot.
In addition, Chapman has a tendency to land on his heel more than the ball of his foot. The heel does not absorb and distribute the shock of impact as well as the ball of the foot. When the foundation is unsteady, a pitcher's command can be inconsistent.
He will need to tighten up his delivery and refine his mechanics to be more repeatable in order to improve his ability to locate the ball inside the strikezone.
Chapman has upside that rivals that of just about anyone in baseball. His live arm and massive velocity gives him a sky high ceiling, but the lack of polish on his secondary pitches and inconsistent command means he still has work to do to reach his ceiling. He is also a prime example of the benefits to be gleaned from using international free agents to bolster a farm system.
Chapman is widely regarded as having the talent of a #1 overall pick in the draft, so the fact that the Reds were able to sign him away from the larger revenue teams could be a massive turning point for the organization. In a perfect world, the Reds will be able to give Chapman some significant innings in the minor leagues. He was electric in spring training, but he never dominated in Cuba or on the international stage, so it's rather unrealistic for Chapman to step right in and dominate at the MLB level.
Chapman has the upside to completely alter the fortunes of the Reds organization. Of course, he still has significant work to do, but his pure stuff not only gives him a massively high ceiling, but also a fairly high floor. Even if he can't refine his mechanics and improve his command, he could still be a middle of the rotation pitcher.
The Reds paid a hefty price to acquire Chapman's services, but the massive upside makes it well worth it. For now, Chapman checks in as the best prospect in the system and lands at #0 on the list.