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What To Do With Aroldis...

Amidst a blinding array of camera flashes and under the blazing heat lamp of national scrutiny, Aroldis Chapman made his Major League Baseball debut on August 31st, 2010 and did what so precious few rookie phenoms ever manage to do: knocked our effing socks off.


Sure enough, the Cuban defector (6'4 and 195 pounds of legs and arms) stared down the barrel of history that night. And, as smooth and easy as his delivery, Chapman mowed down three Milwaukee Brewers like grass under a tank. His fastball was pure electricity, topping out at an otherworldly 103.9. His slider? Knee-buckling, stomach turning, utterly un-hittable.


That night, in his first appearance as a Red, Aroldis Chapman showed the world what many scouts already knew, and what most Reds fans had hoped for ever since Cincinnati G.M. Walt Jocketty danced a ninja-tango under the noses of the MLB powerhouses, signing Chapman at the eleventh hour to a shocking $30 million contract. Shocking, not because he wasn't worth it, but because a team like the Reds (small-market, in size and ideology) was willing to pay him.


Since that torrid debut, Chapman has done nothing to quell the surge of collective excitement that brought a fan-base to its feet. Working out of the Reds bullpen, Chapman posted a 2.03 ERA and recorded 19 strikeouts in 13.1 innings in his month of service.


Even this Spring Training, a time normally reserved for tinkering, getting acclimated, and working out the kinks, Chapman has been just as dominant. As of this writing, he had surrendered just two earned runs in 11 innings of work (good for a 1.64 ERA), due in large part to his 14 K's.


That Aroldis Chapman packs obscene natural talent into his spindly frame has never been in doubt. However, despite Chapman's early successes, the same debate that has blurred his legacy thus far rages on today. As an organization with low-to-middling payroll (ranked 19th in 2010 at just over $72 mil), can the Reds REALLY afford to let Chapman remain a $30 million reliever?


Indeed, this is the question that Chapman has lugged behind him like an iron ball and chain ever since he signed with Cincinnati in January 2010. While the Reds' front office signed the willowy lefty with every intention of grooming him for a rotation spot (all of his professional experience in Cuba was as a starter), it quickly became apparent that not only did Chapman have some cultural and mechanical fine-tuning to attend to, but that there was little room at the proverbial inn. With incumbent starters Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey available, and youngsters Travis Wood, Mike Leake, Matt Maloney, and Sam Lecure ready to make the Minors-to-Majors leap, coaxing Chapman along in a bullpen role suddenly became the most tactical move, where it was already the most prudent.


However, here we are Reds fans. Fast forward to Spring Training 2011, and Reds brass has proclaimed again that their most talented arm will spend the season in middle relief. Now, more than ever, it's appropriate to revisit the "Chapman question" as we head into year two of his six in Cincinnati. And now, more than ever, it's time to squash any debate that may still exist about where Chapman belongs, or what his eventual role will be. He's a STARTER, folks, plain and simple. Anyone who says otherwise is a damn fool.


I'll explain.



The above is an excerpt from my latest Bleacher Report column, entitled "Cincinnati Cuban Missile Crisis: What the Reds Must Do with Aroldis Chapman".  If you're interested in reading my case for Chapman joining the Reds rotation POST-HASTE, or for offering an opinion of your own, go HERE.


SAPPELT REMAINS! In the spring-long saga of Dave Sappelt (aka the Human Hit Parade), every game is must-see TV (too bad Spring Training game aren't televised). For those of you keeping track at home, but too lazy or old to access Google, Dave "three-times-as-many-hits-as-Jonny-Gomes" Sappelt has continued his scorching pace.


With another hit today, Sappelt leads all Reds hitters with more than three at-bats…by nearly ONE HUNDRED PERCENTAGE POINTS (Devin Mesoraco is blazin' too, at .464).


Alas, despite the fact that the incumbent left fielder Gomes has spent Spring Training hacking at breaking balls like a kid hunting fireflies at dusk, Dusty Baker has all but booked Sappelt's plane ticket to Louisville.


However, let me be one of the first to advocate this move. Yeah, Sappelt is hotter right now than the phrase "winning". And yeah, he may just continue to wreck AAA pitching once the season begins and force someone's hand. However, until that time, the Reds already have one righty outfielder on their roster who's talents will be wasted sitting behind Gomes. That would be Chris Heisey, a stud in his own right who, at the moment, is hitting .326 and leading the team in dongs.


Sappelt's time will come soon enough. Until then, let's hope Gomes can figure out that not every pitch is a fastball.


Reed Domer-Shank   3/24/2011

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