Cincinnati Reds Player to Watch: Aroldis Chapman

By Tom Froemming

Three years ago, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman was the international import everyone was watching at Spring Training. This year, there’s very little attention being paid to the Cuban flamethrower.

Last night, I did a Google News search for “Yu Darvish” and got 1,150 results from the previous 24 hours. The same search for “Aroldis Chapman” yielded just five results.

I guess 105 mph fastballs are old news.

Chapman, who just turned 24-years-old, is trying to break into the Reds rotation after spending his first two seasons in the bullpen. Adjusting to the new role will be a challenge, but Chapman told he will be more comfortable at Spring Training than year’s past.

“It is way, way different since the first year. That was really tough,” Chapman said. “It’s easier now to get around. I feel more freedom. I feel that I have a better connection with my teammates. The camaraderie is going up. I feel more relaxed and free around here.”

Reds management isn’t handing anything to Chapman, however, as he’ll have to earn a spot in the rotation. Current projections have Cincinnati’s starting five as Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey. Even if Chapman is sent to Triple-A, he may not be in Louisville for long, as the Arroyo was the lone Reds pitcher to start 30 games in 2011.

In the end, Cincinnati didn’t give Chapman a six-year, $30 million contract and $16.25 million bonus to be a middle reliever. The additions of Ryan Madson and Sean Marshall solidified the bullpen, meaning the team should be able to fully commit to the project of turning “The Cuban Missle” into a long-range weapon.

Along with the challenge of stretching out his arm, Champman also has to get his control down before he can be relied on to start ballgames. He averaged 7.4 BB/9 over 50 innings pitched. On the plus side, he also averaged 12.8 K/9.

There aren’t many Justin Verlander types who can handle consistently throwing in the high 90s while pitching 200 innings. If it turns out Chapman’s arm can handle the strain, he won’t be overlooked for long.

Where ever Chapman eventually fits in, he’ll clearly be a key piece in the Reds’ attempt to regain the NL Central crown. Cincinnati made some great additions to the pitching staff, and 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Now that the extra Wild Card has been added, I would be surprised if the Reds missed the playoffs again in 2012.

Elsewhere on Rant: WAR Projections: 2012 NL Central Season Preview

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