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In Aroldis Chapman, Reds hope they've found a southpaw Strasburg

Like the Nats' Stephen Strasburg, Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman must deal with enormous expectations.
Like the Nats' Stephen Strasburg, Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman must deal with enormous expectations. (Christian Petersen/getty Images)

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"I doubt they even had a pitch count" in Cuba, Baker said. "That's very important. Sometimes you can under-pitch a guy if he's used to throwing. I see him out there throwing long-toss. He throws every day. This winter was probably the longest he's been off in his whole career. You just hope you don't un-train him."

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Like the Nationals with Strasburg, the Reds appear inclined to start Chapman in the minor leagues this season. However, the Reds' decision is complicated by the fact they feel they can contend this season in the NL Central, while the Nationals believe they are at least a year away from harboring playoff hopes. Thus, the Reds seem to be giving more thought than the Nationals to putting their phenom on the opening day roster.

At the same time, most scouts view Chapman as less "polished" and thus less major league-ready than Strasburg.

"There's no question, you have much more of a finished product in Strasburg," said a scout for an American League team who saw Strasburg last October during the Arizona Fall League, and has seen Chapman this spring. "With Strasburg, you pretty much know you're getting a number one starter unless there's a major injury or something. But with Chapman, to me, that's not as much of a given. You ask any scout out here [to choose], and they'd take Strasburg."

A scout from a National League team who attended Chapman's first Cactus League start Monday agreed, saying: "The arms are pretty similar in terms of how hard they throw, and Chapman has the benefit of being left-handed. But Strasburg has better command and better secondary pitches, so right now he's closer [to the majors] for me."

The bigger questions about Chapman, those about his personality and maturity -- what baseball people call his "makeup" -- are being answered this spring.

Scouts who recalled his unraveling during Cuba's WBC game against Japan a year ago noted Monday how he remained composed when the umpire failed to give him a borderline strike call. In interviews, which are conducted through an interpreter -- Reds minor league pitching coach Tony Fossas, a Cuban native and former big league pitcher -- Chapman is pleasant and humble, not unlike Strasburg.

And at least with Chapman, no one dares question his toughness, not after he walked away from his country, his parents, a girlfriend and a baby daughter (now 8 months old) to arrive at this place.

"It takes a lot of guts, a lot of heart [to leave] his family, not knowing what the future will bring," Fossas said, when asked about Chapman's learning curve as a pitcher. "I think for him, this is a piece of cake."


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