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. . and the questions go beyond his stuff. Melissa Segura of Sports Illustrated wrote a terrific piece recently delving deeply into his background. She does a terrific job of recounting his life story and analyzing how he might translate in MLB competition. She starts at his first botched attempt to leave Cuba, and then the events leading up to his successful defection. There’s a lot to be concerned about for prospective bidders, which confirms what I saw from his outings facing international competition. I’m no scout, but he appeared to me to be a major project who would be years away from MLB competition, if ever. She writes:

This time he knew better than to breathe a word of his plan to anyone, including his pregnant girlfriend, who rested beside him for what could be the last time in a long time.

“What would you do,” he asked her, “if I didn’t come back?”

Raidelmis Mendosa Santiestelas‘ hands circled the baby in her belly.

“Stop talking nonsense,” she said.

Days later, Ashanti Brianna Chapman was born, but Aroldis was already gone from Holguín. For good.

I’ll leave it up to the reader to pass their own judgments on someone who’s days away from becoming a father for the first time who has defection on his mind. Defecting from a Communist country like Cuba is something you may not get many chances to do, and pitchers can get hurt and lose their value. Cuban Baseball has been notorious for burning out guys with golden arms at young ages. But as you’ll see from accounts by many of those who’ve worked with him, his maturity level is seriously in question.

Next up were the events leading up to him being left off the Bejing Olympic team in 2008. Chapman recounted how he was summoned to meet with Raul Chavez after his his first botched attempt to defect, and says the Cuban President suspended him from the team. But others close to the situation have a different account:

Chapman says authorities removed him from the Olympic team in reprisal. “They didn’t take me [to Beijing] because they said they weren’t certain that I would return,” Chapman says.

Others are not so sure that is the real reason. Dr. Peter Bjarkman, a foremost Cuban baseball scholar and chronicler, suggests that Chapman has reframed his Olympic exclusion as a punishment, rather than a performance-based roster cut. Bjarkman writes that the June 2008 Jose Huelga Tournament in Havana is when Chapman “pitched himself off” the Olympic team as he “displayed little control and less confidence, being knocked out early in his final appearance versus tame Puerto Rico by his own extreme wildness.”

On to his stuff-

In his four years in the National Series, he had a 24-21 record with a 3.72 ERA. Almost as notable as his 379 strikeouts in 341 2/3 innings are his 210 walks. His career bases on balls per nine innings is 5.37, a stat that would rank him last – below Arizona’s Daniel Cabrera (5.24) and Milwaukee’s Seth McClung (5.31) — among the 245 major league pitchers who have thrown at least 341 career innings.  And that’s calculated without adjusting for a softer strike zone and freer swingers in the Cuban league. “In Cuba you knew you could throw a bad pitch and a batter would swing at it,” Chapman admits. “In the big leagues, that doesn’t happen very often.”

These statistics reinforced a concern of several executives who spoke to SI.com. “His secondary pitches are just not that good” says one high-ranking NL team official.
One source told SI.com that the left-hander’s fastball did not exceed 92 mph during a private workout last month.
On his willingness to work out of the bullpen-
Chapman expresses reluctance to move to the bullpen, though he worked as a closer for part of the 2006-07 National Series season. “It went OK, but I like being a starter better,” he says. “The difference in starting the game is that you can impact the game greatly. You can pitch a lot of innings. As a closer, you only get one or two innings. You pitch more frequently, but I don’t have a lot of interest in being a closer.”
On his maturity-

Another area of concern, which no analyst’s formulas can predict and no scouts’ radar guns can measure, is maturity. Bjarkman, the Cuban baseball scholar, publicly called Chapman “uncoachable” while some scouts took note of how he grimaced and writhed at an uncomfortable strike zone at the WBC. Chapman explains it more as a cultural difference rather than a personal shortcoming. “In Cuba, the athletes fight a lot with the umpires. They’re always arguing with the umpires,” he told SI.com. “Here, that’s rare.”

Questions about his makeup resurfaced last month when Chapman orchestrated a defection of a different sort, abruptly ditching Mejia, his agent, in the middle of contract negotiations and signing with the Hendricks brothers, who boast a client list of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and, most recently, fellow Cuban defector Kendry Morales, with whom Chapman had spoken during the 2009 playoffs. One NL executive who has followed Chapman says that fellow Cuban players acquainted with him have described the pitcher as temperamental and crazy.

Finally, the fact that nobody’s seen him enough to really know what he is as a pitcher-
That same executive has a much more fundamental concern: He hasn’t seen enough of Chapman. There have been no open showcases for him, usually a requirement for high-profile international free agents. “If he’s that good, why aren’t you showing him off?” the executive asks. “Why not throw him in the Dominican Winter League and let him tear up the competition and drive up his price?”

So lets recap. He has issues with:
-His stuff
-His control
-His secondary pitches
-His willingness to be a reliever
-His unwillingness to show his value in Dominican Ball
-His maturity level
-His coachability

Other than that, he appears to be a safe bet.

17 Responses to “Major Questions Surrounding Aroldis Chapman”

  1. While he could be one of the best pitchers in a few years. His floor is just so low while he ceiling is so high. I would rather they went after the other LHP cuban out there. Spend less, get the guy in and go from there.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    The other Chris H Reply:

    Noel Arguelles? He throws like 88-92 MPH with the makings of a plus change and a so-so curve. Best case scenario is a Cole Hamels model but he still costs like 10 million but I wouldn’t mind signing him…. However he doesn’t have near the upside just a slightly higher floor.  (Quote)

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  2. Ya but…enough said. Clearly, everyone GM wants the price driven down for good reason (as Steve S. stated) – teams will take a shot if and probably when the money is commensurate with a top 25 pick as opposed to a top 3 pick. Then you can work with him in the minors for three years and at worst have a nasty lefty specialist out of the bull pen at age 24.  (Quote)

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  3. I’m not a huge Chapman fan but a lot of this seems to be a smear campaign from former Cuban coaches and other unknown sources. This line is particular made me laugh:

    “Why not throw him in the Dominican Winter League and let him tear up the competition and drive up his price?”

    Now why should he do this? What does he have to gain, since its already being rumored he will get a deal north of what Jose Contrereas received. Say he does pitch and gets hurt, or say he just so happens to have a bad start or two while the scouts are watching. All that will happen is is value will decrease since it’s already sky high.

    I agree there are a lot of question marks around the guy, but he’s still a worthy investment to a team that can spare the cash. I wouldn’t break the bank for him but I’d definitely do my due diligence.  (Quote)

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  4. Let’s remember that he was 19-20 years old when all of this was going down.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    The other Chris H Reply:

    I still say the only way you can know if the guy is worth signing and for what for is to sit down and talk to him (which the Yankees did at game 6) and have the guy throw a private bullpen session and at least have him pitch to some standing hitters even if they aren’t swinging.  (Quote)

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  5. “The difference in starting the game is that you can impact the game greatly. You can pitch a lot of innings. As a closer, you only get one or two innings.”

    At least he is already smarter than Mike Francesa and a large amount of Yankee fans. Starting pitchers are inherently more valuable than relievers. That should be a plus in his intelligence column.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    The other Chris H Reply:

    I also like the fact he wants to be a starter, sometimes with Joba it’s like he says he does but looks like he doesn’t care.  (Quote)

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  6. If the Yankees sign this guy I hope it’s for 6 years. Just like a player drafted. This way the Yankees can give him time in the Minors and still get enough out of him in the Majors.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    The other Chris H Reply:

    Even if it isn’t for 6 years he would be under team control for 6 years and the last few years would be arbitration years.  (Quote)

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  7. i think the somewhat misguided comparisons with chapman and strausburg are ridiculous! what i mean is ive heard all these posts and stuff like “chapman is 2nd to only stausburg in terms of prospects” really? now i would agree stausburg is likely the #1 prospect in all of baseball (i feel he’s very similiar to verlander based on stuff, size and ability) where as chapman’s velocity is often known for his left handed 100mph… but then there is word that its much less than that, in terms of velocity, which makes him no where near as valuable!
    100mph w/control= great prospect and worth the money/risk
    100mph w/o control= ehh maybe he’ll learn it in time still could be worth the risk for a large market team
    92 w/o control= no thanks, can draft them out of college in the draft next year!
    if he could control his fastball at around 94-97 i’d sign him for a deal around $7-20 million. yes, i know thats a big price range but there are many variables. he has proven NOTHING at least dice-k and el duque and contreas proved they could pitch against legit talent (wbc) when given their large contracts. chapman is like a young golden armed college prospect in my mind. dont treat him as any more than that! he will not get a deal beyond $20 million in my mind because of all of his issues. comments?  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    The other Chris H Reply:

    Actually the statement wasn’t he was second to Strausberg as a prospect…!

    The quote was HE IS THE 3RD BEST PITCHER NOT IN THE MLB BEHIND STRAUSBERG AND DARVISH, but the latter two are much more polished…. They were just talking about his ceiling being as high as those guys which it is but his floor is much lower.

    In the end I would still give him 20-30 million for 6 years because of his ceiling and the fact he could be a reliever… If you give him 30 over 6 that’s 5 million a year, it’s not hard to be worth that in MLB, Alfredo Aceves was worth 5.4 million this year!  (Quote)

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  8. I was never in favor of signing Chapman for any substantial bonus — too much hype, too little demonstrated success, too many excuses. The money is better spent elsewhere.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    The other Chris H Reply:

    6 years 30 million? How is that even a risk? It’s 5 million a year and Aceves was worth more than that this year… Joba Chamberlain was worth 6.8 million this year and all in all he sucked and had no control or velocity!  (Quote)

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    jeremy Reply:

    where the hell are you getting aceves and jobas value from?  (Quote)

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  9. wow, all those negatives! Sounds like a typical 21 year old lefthander with 98 mph stuff to me.
    THE ONLY ISSUE IS HOW MUCH MONEY YOU GIVE HIM.Is he worth more than a college sophomore with similar credentials and scouting report, if you could find one.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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