This past Tuesday, the Twins sent representation down to Houston to observe Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban defector with 100-mph touching-fastball, showcasing his skills in a bullpen session in front of 15 teams.
By most accounts, Chapman’s stuff was legit. According to ESPN.com’s Jorge Arangure (subscription re’q) the 21-year-old was in the 92-94-mph range with his fastball although he touched 97-mph in what described as “effortless” and had added muscle to his otherwise lanky frame (he’s listed as 6’ 4”, 185-pounds) while having tightened his mechanics.
His velocity from the left-side is significant. During the World Baseball Classic, Chapman was averaging 96-mph with his fastball but was able to deliver several pitches near the 100-mph milestone (one topped out at 102-mph). If he were able to maintain this consistency throughout a season, his 96-mph mark would not only put him as one of the league’s hardest throwers, but one of the rare left-handed hurlers that breaks 94-mph - only CC Sabathia throws that hard regularly.
Of course, velocity does not equal success. Just ask Daniel Cabrera. In his 6.1 innings in the WBC, Chapman struck out 8 but added four runners through walks. In November, Alex Eisenberg at Baseball-Intellect.com analyzed his mechanics and noted that “Chapman has to coordinate a lot of moving parts” which often translates into control issues when a few of those parts jump off track. That’s why the latter part of Arangure’s report regarding the tightening of his mechanics is important. If he has indeed taken measures to improve his mechanical flaws, Chapman may have shaved development time off and closed the gap to when he will be considered major league-ready.
At the same time, the session was not that encompassing where conclusions on his talent could be drawn. John Stockstill, the Orioles’ director of international scouting, said that “It was not really set up for evaluations. They wanted to let everybody see that he's healthy. He threw a light bullpen. Now they're setting things up so every club has an opportunity to meet with him starting today and going for the next two or three days."
To be sure, the level of aggression the Twins are pursuing Chapman is still unknown. Joe Christensen tweeted yesterday that former Twin Tony Oliva had “raved” about Chapman. Christensen said that Oliva’s brother is a coach in the top professional league in Cuba and had been feeding Oliva the scouting reports. With Oliva still very much active in the Twins (enough so that he gets stuck in the Metrodome’s executive washrooms), it is assumed that he is attempting to influence the scouting staff that Chapman is worth the investment.
In addition to Oliva’s persuasion, the Twins have been attacking the international market this past year with tenacity. Miguel Sano, viewed as one if not the top international prospect last summer, was acquired when most analysts discounted the Twins as potential suitors. This was a well-orchestrated acquisition ten years in the making. This past fall, general manager Bill Smith sat down with TwinsCentric and said in an interview which you can find in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook (now $7.95 for a PDF) that “[W]e have tried to become more aggressive internationally. It has been a ten-year initiative. There’s a lot you have to build up. You have to build up your staff. You have to get your staff ready to be making evaluations. We have worked very hard to get more aggressive internationally.”
Naturally, when asked if this required more money, something the Twins have valued above all in the past, Smith answered “If we can find them cheap, we’ll find them cheap, but we want to get good players on the international market.”
Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein tweeted on Wednesday that one executive told him that Chapman is looking at potentially a $30 million dollar contract while the Peter Abraham at the Boston Globe speculated that it would take $15 million (roughly what the Red Sox had offered) to secure Chapman’s services. Depending on the length of contract, this might not be an unreasonable amount of money to spend. Considering the amount it takes to sign a free agent that is has exited his peak age years (post-30), signing a phenom who is still several years away from his prime years is a good business decision for a budget-conscious organization. Investing in Chapman for the Twins, makes sense from both a talent acquisition standpoint and a financial position. If the evaluators believe Chapman can be a number one starter, his addition to a 2010 or 2011 rotation gives Minnesota a top, young pitcher that could be better than any of the aging arms that would appear on the free market – in spite of what is perceived as a high cost.