Opening Day is exactly two weeks away, but there seems to be more questions regarding the Reds roster now than there were at the start of spring training. Perhaps the biggest question of all is the fate of the Cuban Missile.
There have been conflicting reports about where Aroldis Chapman will start the season and what role he will play. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian wrote on Tuesday, March 20, that Chapman will open the year in the bullpen, even if Bill Bray is ready to go:
Aroldis Chapman will start the season in the bullpen, giving the Reds three lefties along with Sean Marshall and Bill Bray.
However, Mark Sheldon of Reds.com seemed less certain the following day:
No one is saying yet what is next for lefty Aroldis Chapman, who appears to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the rotation. Especially if Bray is not ready to open the season, Baker would not mind having Chapman and his fastball velocity in the big league bullpen. However, conventional wisdom seems to favor having Chapman go to Triple-A Louisville to keep working as a starter.
Chapman himself has said that he wants to be in the rotation:
“I’ve always been a starter and I always like to be a starter,” Chapman said through his interpreter. “Right now, I’m here looking to be a starter and that’s what I’d like to do.”
Putting Chapman back in the bullpen would be a mistake and detrimental to both him and the team in the long run. In my opinion, it was a mistake to put him in the bullpen in the first place. As Chapman said above, he has always been a starter. Moving him to the pen has only delayed his development as a starter.
Chapman obviously has nearly limitless potential as a pitcher. Sure, there are some red flags. While his opponents hit a miniscule .147 off of him in 2011, his WHIP was a less-than-impressive 1.30 due to 7.4 walks per 9 innings. And of course, there are also concerns about his shoulder and arm holding up under the strain of pitching so many innings.
But there is also a lot to be excited about. He has been impressive in limited action so far this spring with a 2.57 ERA and seven strikeouts in 7.0 innings. Best of all, he has walked only one batter so far. Personally, I can‘t wait to see him use every pitch in his arsenal. He has shown his blazing fastball and his devastating slider out of the pen, and with great effectiveness. It’s his other pitches that have been stirring my imagination.
For one, according to this article by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, he has reportedly been working on his changeup with Ryan Madson. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Madson yet, his changeup is pretty darn good. Maybe the best in baseball.
Most intriguingly, he has started using his splitter once again. He threw the splitter in Cuba but has not used it in Cincinnati. And, as Passan notes, no left-handed starter in the majors last year threw a splitter.
Can you imagine having a guy in the rotation who can throw around 95-98 mph with a knee-buckling slider, a plus changeup, and a pitch that no one in the majors has seen before?
Aroldis Chapman is destined to be a starting pitcher. Every team suffers injuries over the course of 162 games, and pitchers are especially vulnerable. If/when someone goes down this year, who would you rather have stepping into the rotation? Jeff Francis, a guy who is at best a serviceable starter? Or Chapman, who has the potential to be an All-Star? In my mind, this is a no-brainer.