Cuban Crossovers: Aroldis Chapman

This week I’m writing a series on a number of high-profile Cuban players who defected to the MLB, focusing primarily on expectation and payoff, to varying degrees.
From Monday, Jose Abreu.  Tuesday: Yasiel Puig. Yesterday: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
Today’s subject is the Reds’ high-powered closer, Aroldis Chapman.

Aroldis Chapman appeared on the scene in late 2009. At least half the league showed up to see him work out in Houston on December 15 before the Reds came out the eventual winners of the bidding. His signing came after months of interactions with MLB teams after defecting in the summer of 2009. He was called up in September of the following season, in his first year of American baseball.

Scouts saw Chapman as a unique talent. Speculation swirled about as many teams were thought to be interested in his services. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Angels were considered front-runners to get the lefty, but the Reds had been active all along under the radar and signed him, putting forward a better offer than the runner-up A’s. (Just two years later, the A’s won big in the bidding for Yoenis Cespedes. More on that tomorrow.)

When the Reds announced they had signed Chapman in 2010, they hoped he would be a starter. They gave him starter’s money, too, at $30.25 million over 6 years before incentives. The biggest question about Chapman was control. His repertoire had two plus pitches, a fastball and a slider, but his changeup was only adequate — a primary factor in his control issues. Could this Cuban starter improve his changeup and control enough to become an effective starting pitcher?

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