When Aroldis Chapman defected during the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands in July, the conventional wisdom was that he would eventually sign with one of the big-revenue teams like the Yankees, Angels or Red Sox.
But today in Cincinnati, the Reds have pulled off a shocker. They are announcing that they have signed the Cuban lefthander to a five-year major league deal valued at $25 million with a $5 million player option for a sixth season. According to Baseball America correspondent John Fay, the deal is structured with deferred money over the next 10 years. Chapman will receive $1 million in 2010 and will not become a significant factor on the big league payroll until 2014.
Chapman, who has been clocked as high as 102 mph in the past, immediately becomes the top prospect in the Reds system, surpassing third baseman/outfielder Todd Frazier.
Chapman, 22, has one of the best arms in baseball, something scouts have known for quite some time despite getting only limited glimpses at him in international tournaments. Chapman was left off the Cuban Olympic team because of a failed atttempt to defect, but he did pitch in the World Baseball Classic. He wowed scouts there with a true 80 fastball on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, though he also struggled with his command.
"If you are looking for more than that in a pitcher, you'll be searching your whole life," an AL scout told BA at the time. "He was so much fun to watch. If he's 21 like he's listed, the sky's the limit. You've got honestly just one or two tweaks that could be made but he could go straight to the top of a big league rotation."
That's the optimistic assessment. Other scouts have worried that Chapman's control is not yet good enough to consistently get big league hitters out. And as with any Cuban defector, he'll also be making a rather significant adjustment to life off the field.
Chapman sits at 94-95 mph and can pair his fastball with a changeup, slider and curveball. The slider is his second-best pitch, though none of his secondary offerings come close to matching his fastball as of yet. If he can refine his command and his slider, he has the stuff to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. If he doesn't, the worst-case scenario is that he ends up as a power lefty out of the bullpen.
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