Friday, March 12, 2010

3/12 Aroldis Chapman Impressions

I had a chance to watch Aroldis Chapman pitch for the first time since he signed with the Reds and came away with some strong impressions. When I recently ranked him #16 overall among prospects I did so completely off of scattered reports and that rank was a bit of a guess, because of how little information I have. While I do look at stats to help evaluate prospects, I also do pay attention to what I can see with my own eyes. Despite a poor camera angle and... we'll call it interesting... production choices I was able get a better idea of just what type of player Chapman is.

First of all, the fastball. With no radar gun at my disposal I was relying on the broadcasters telling me a few registered at 98 MPH, and he certainly appeared to be throwing hard. The thing that struck me the most though was how much movement he had. The pitch had substantial arm-side run on it that was very obvious, even from the well off-center view I had. If he is throwing legitimate upper-90s heat with that kind of life it is one of the best fastballs on the planet.

However, his command was really all over the place. In his first inning of work he consistently missed up and to his arm-side. He was a little better in his second inning, and maybe I just caught him on a bad day, but based on what I saw his control needs a lot of work.

Chapman's secondary pitches also left a lot to be desired. He threw several poor changeups that came nowhere near the plate until he finally got one over to Matt Kemp. A 20% success rate is not going to get it done and that was the ratio he was working with today.

Chapman also mixed in a couple of sliders that were also slightly below average. His command of the pitch was equally poor to his others and its movement was mediocre. Because he throws the slider so hard, it almost comes out looking like a cutter and that will actually be fine if he can locate it better.

The most memorable at-bat of his day was the battle he had with Matt Kemp. Chapman got ahead in the count with fastballs before missing with some secondary pitches and running the count full. Kemp was able to foul off one fastball but swung through another one up and out of the zone.

The Kemp at-bat was a microcosm of Chapman's performance, moments of brilliance but also a lot of frustration. A couple batters chasing pitches out of the zone, plus Ramon Hernandez picking a batter off first base, helped Chapman escape without giving up a run, even though he did struggle.

The last thing I will touch on is Chapman's mechanics. He works quickly but has an exaggerated stall early on in his windup. The timing of this seemed inconsistent and I believe that helped contribute to some of his control issues. His balance also is not perfect after landing and he has a big follow-through that is reminiscent of Oliver Perez, not a good sign for someone trying to improve his command.

Chapman's arm is extremely quick but also loose and fairly easy in his motion. Ironing out those mechanical issues should help him develop more advanced control and enable him to develop into an excellent starter. The foundation for success is there, but if today was any indication, Chapman still has a ways to go before he is ready for Major League ball.

- One other note from the two innings of the game I managed to see. Chris Heisey, who I ranked #100 overall recently, hit an impressive home run off of a George Sherrill curve ball. It was a very good pitch, down and out of the strike-zone, but Heisey picked it off the turf and drove it out, a little to the left of center field. Most young players would have swung over the top of it for a strikeout but Heisey stayed back and hit is with surprising authority. He is currently battling for a job in the Cincinnati outfield (but is more likely to head to AAA) and that home run will certainly help make Dusty Baker consider him.

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