Cincinnati Reds Playing Aroldis Chapman's Conversion To Starter Close To The Chest

By Thom Tsang
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As the defending NL Central champions, there will be many inquisitive eyes on the Cincinnati Reds‘ camp in Spring Training as they progress towards defending their title in 2013.

Most of them, however, will likely be directed at the team’s projected No. 5 pitcher, Aroldis Chapman.

But, if you’re hoping to get any answers about how the Reds plan on converting their elite closer into a starting pitcher, it won’t be coming from the people overseeing the process. Yes, the team’s arguably most important move this spring will also be its biggest secret.

At least, if manager Dusty Baker has anything to say about it, anyway. In fact, the team’s skipper has said that he’s “tired of answering the questions about it already” only days into Spring Training, and would only say that he, Reds GM Walt Jocketty, and pitching coach Bryan Price have a “good understanding of what will be necessary to keep [Chapman’s] innings at at area that [they’re] comfortable with.”

The team, will, of course, approach the transition for their 24-year old cautiously; that said, when the team won the bidding for the Cuban defect’s services back in 2010, it was with the intention of turning his triple-digit arm into a MLB starter at some point in the future.

And now, that future has arrived, and if it all goes well, Chapman will immediately slot in as the Reds’ No. 2 starter, as long as he’s still on the mound.

The latter point, though, is still a point of speculation among fans and media. Given that Chapman has thrown no more than 71.2 innings over the last two seasons, the team will more than likely have a pitch or innings count in place to limit the lefty’s workload.

But what is the number? Chapman started 13 games in AAA in 2010, and he threw 108 innings that season. If the team will put him about there, or even at twice the workload that was used to in 2012, that should get Cincinnati some 21-22 starts before they run into the Stephen Strasburg conundrum that the Washington Nationals had to handle in 2012.

Will they shut Chapman down in a similar fashion? Will he go back to the bullpen down the stretch, when the games will likely take on more importance? Will the team roll with a six-man rotation at the break or prior to limit Chapman’s workload?

All of that are answers that only the team has an idea about, and they’re not ready to reveal it.

That will be dependent on how successfully Chapman handles starting, of course, and Baker even addressed that as a “maybe” at this point, citing that the team really didn’t know whether they were going to get the shut-down closer version of Chapman in 2012, or the version that walked 7.38 batters per nine innings in 2011.

The team has enough internal questioning about the process as it is, and as Baker says, opening it up would only “set the table for a little too much speculation and Q&A”, and he’d rather not continue stoke the fire on the subject when it’s already a hot topic.

Not when there are other things, such as getting players like Joey Votto ready to defending the team’s NL Central crown, to worry about.

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