The Youth

by Ryan

Somehow this never really got finished. Considering his debut last night, let’s give it another shot.

When you’re touted as the 30-million dollar man, you have to look the part. For 22-year-old Aroldis Chapman, that means on the mound as well as off it.

Everyone came to Coca-Cola Field expecting to see big numbers in the outfield, but they weren’t looking at the main scoreboard. Fans were looking for triple digits on the radar gun from the Reds pitching prospect, and that’s exactly what they saw. His first four pitches were right on script: 97-98-99-100. K looking.

For three innings, everything was working perfectly for Chapman. He only allowed one hit, a walk and struck out four. He hit a stand-up double and had an RBI. His command was there, his velocity was unreal and his breaking pitches were terrifying.

The Louisville Bats roughed up Bisons starter Tobi Stoner for ten hits and six runs over 2 2/3 innings, and relievers Adam Pettyjohn and Kiko Calero only made things worse. The final score would end up a gaudy 20-7 win for the Bats, but it was the five innings with Aroldis on the mound that really mattered.

After the fast start, however, he got himself into trouble. He started the fourth by hitting Fernando Martinez with an 82 MPH breaking ball. He followed that with a strikeout of Mike Hessman after an eight-pitch at bat, but then things got strange. A string of singles got Chapman rattled and his control started to waver.

The lefty gave up five runs on six hits in the fourth, giving up much of that big lead and taking some of the shine off what was an impressive start.

“I don’t think it’s an easy game,” Chapman said of the trouble he got into in the fourth. “You go to an inning like the one I had where everything went different. But I was able to come back and make the adjustment and get out of that inning.

“There are no easy games.”

Maybe not yet, but there are certainly easy stretches for the lefty. There is clearly nothing wrong with his fastball, and early in the game his breaking ball was working wonders, dropping 16-20 MPH off for a slider or changeup. Control was the main issue the rookie has battled, but those first three innings were a flash of greatness.

“I thought he threw the ball well,” said Bisons manager Ken Oberkfell. “He had the good fastball but he was also getting the off-speed pitches over the plate.” When he was first asked about Chapman’s outing he jokingly said “He’s a pretty good hitter,” but the manager was obviously impressed.

It was interesting to see how the Bats evaluated that fourth inning from Chapman. It was obviously a problem that his control went away, and it appeared that he was a bit rattled by the runs scored, but he certainly settled back down to finish the outing strong.

“He’ll learn from that,” Bats manager Rick Sweet said. “Until he experiences something, we can’t teach. We definitely had that experience tonight.”

It may be damage control, but it is certainly an interesting point. For a raw talent like Chapman there is just so much to learn. One of the things I just couldn’t get over was how young he is, how much he just doesn’t know yet. For example, take what he said when asked about the fanfare that has surrounded his signing and minor league starts.

“I think any player would like to have that experience,” he said. “Any player wants to be chased by the media, by the fans, being asked for autographs. I think any player wants to be like that.”

It’s nice to see him handling all of the attention so well, but I don’t think that’s the typical answer you get from most players. Call it “a part of the game,” say you don’t pay attention to any of it; that’s the ballplayer’s response. But Chapman said he was “proud” of the attention, something you rarely hear from a player.

This is a guy who is just starting to chart pitches between his innings, who is still developing control on pitches to support his ridiculous fastball and is still getting used to a brand new country.

Sweet later said Chapman wasn’t sure what to do when he was handed a jacket on the basepaths after his hits. He thought his teammates were playing a joke on him, but they just wanted him to keep his arm warm. Just another lesson learned, I suppose.

Still, it was very clear that Aroldis Chapman knows what’s at stake here: he knows the drill. The 22-year-old walked into a room of waiting reporters dressed to the nines: Luis Vutton sneakers, True Religion jeans and a blue-gray Armani Exchange track jacket. Gold jewlery dangled from his hands as he spoke confidently through a translator about his experiences as a minor leauger.

“When you come to the opposite team’s house and (see) the crowd, how well they treat me, how they root for me, I feel really happy,” he said. “I’ve been seeing this in every city I go, people come to the game to see me throw.

“I really feel proud.”

Still, there is a lot to learn for Chapman. He is still very much a kid with so much left to experience. When a reporter asked about his start in baseball, Chapman suddenly became downright shy.

His translator had to prod him into telling the story: a baseball coach walks into the local boxing gym and asked if anyone wanted to play. Aroldis Chapmon, the kid who can throw 100+ MPH for the Reds, was a boxer long before he picked up the glove.

Either way, he sure knows how to throw ’em.