Aroldis Chapman - SP Cincinnati Reds
This 21-year-old Cuban defector probably played a pretty big role in many fantasy drafts around the country last month and for many it will be interesting to revisit this spring's distribution in a couple of seasons to see who paid way too much, and who passed too many times on the Reds' most talked about prospect.
Cuban prospects always tend to be hyped too much because of the wall of scintillating secrecy that surrounds their pre-defection career. Chapman is built long and lithe at 6-4, 185 with long legs and arms to leverage. A legitimate power-lefty and known most for his velocity, Chapman throws 93-96 and he occasionally hit 100 on the gun this spring. His fastball has good life and natural tail and while his control is decent, his in the zone command is lacking. Chapman has trouble working the arm side of the plate and tends to catch too much plate when he misses.
Chapman brings a couple of curves and a slider as secondary pitches but the slider is almost a third curve and doesn't drive or bite the way you'd expect from a power pitcher. Still, he can start it on a fastball plane which helps further differentiate it from his curve. He'll also mix a change and a cutter occasionally but they have been mostly "show me" pitches at this point because his fastball has been enough to get by.
His build asks for a complicated delivery which Chapman has trouble duplicating at times, which in turn leads to velocity inconsistencies, and he tends to tip his curveball with arm speed and release point variances.
Of course like everyone else, you probably tuned out at "lefty" and "100 mph" and I'm not indifferent to that position, but Chapman is extremely raw in almost every other aspect of his game. If he can make the cultural and language adjustments, and if he's pliable in a baseball-instructional context, a lot of those other issues can be polished out and that's why he had to be sent to the minors to start the season as much as the Reds would have liked to run him out there to start the season.
Chapman pitched 10.2 impressive innings in the spring striking out 15 and walking 7 with a 1.69 ERA and his potential is undeniable. Still, he is slave to the same laws of MLB baseball physics as everyone else. He has to develop command in the strike zone, at least two viable secondary pitches, and be physically able to handle pitching 200 innings on an every-5th-day basis to be a force as a starter in the majors. Without those skills even 110 mph isn't enough to beat MLB hitters consistently.
Yes, Chapman could develop into a viable #1 starter but I am going to call that possibility a long shot. I think it's also possible he could end up setting up in the majors in the long haul. Again his ability to adapt culturally, physically, and in a baseball sense will determine the outcome here ... We'll revisit Aroldis later in the summer when we have more plot points on his learning curve, but for now I am marking him conservatively ... Chapman's story begins today in his professional debut for Louisville.
Long Term Fantasy Grade - B
Martin Perez - SP Texas Rangers
While we are on the subject of Aroldis Chapman and lefties in general, let's talk about perhaps the best left-handed prospect in baseball, 18-year-old Martin Perez.
Signed out of Venezuela in 2007, Perez assimilated in 61.2 solid innings in low-A in 2008 and bloomed in A ball last year with a double digit K/9 and a .237 OBA despite a neutral .332 BHIP%.
In his second year of pro ball, Perez added velocity (now low-to-mid 90s with an occasional foray above 95) and made great strides with his change up. The improvement in his change gives him 3 potentially plus pitches to bring to bear and makes his fastball and excellent curve play up.
After 93.2 impressive innings in high-A the Rangers wanted to see what he could do against AA hitters and Perez held his own in 21 IP. His K rate dipped to 6.0/9 but Perez did not give in, lowering his walk rate to 2.1/9. Opponents hit .329 off him in AA with the help of a .374 BHIP tailwind. He took his lumps but Perez did nothing to diminish his prospect status in his short stint in AA to end the season.
Perez turned 19 on the 4th of April and it listed at 6-0, 165 leaving lots of time to fill out lots of room on his frame. It is more than reasonable to expect that he gains a little more in velocity in the next 24 months, and when you combine that with his highly-advanced secondary pitches and control skills you start to paint the picture on an elite pitching prospect.
We'll likely get a look at him in September and Perez should compete for a full time job in 2011 at 20 years old ... barely ...
Long Term Fantasy Grade - A+
Seas Lvl W L ERA IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 AVG WHIP
2008 A- 1 2 3.65 61.2 7.7 4.1 0.4 .275 1.52
2009 A- 5 5 2.31 93.2 10.1 3.2 0.3 .237 1.23
2009 AA 1 3 5.57 21.0 6.0 2.1 0.9 .329 1.62
Jesus Montero - C New York Yankees
Joe Mauer's signing of a long-term contract with the Twins may have skewed the value of Jesus Montero in many leagues with minor league elements, but the elimination of Mauer as an option for the Yankees does not make Montero the heir apparent for Jorge Posada in New York.
The Yankees list him as a catcher but they also list him at 6-4/225 and both designations should be regarded with great skepticism. Drop your skepticism however when it comes to his offense. The 20-year-old right-handed hitter actually cut his K% in his jump to AA as a 19-year-old last year to an impressive 12.6% while slugging .539 on 9 HRs and 10 doubles in 181 ABs.
Montero hit .317 in AA with a neutral .321 BHIP% and walked a healthy 7.7% of the time. Montero has outstanding bat speed and sees the ball deep into the zone. His size and bat speed also combine to make him a power threat foul line to foul line.
The 2006 signee out of Venezuela has daunting power potential generated by his early weight transfer to his front foot, and he already controls his strike zone very well. The Yankees would like to see him draw in pitchers more and work the count to get better pitches to drive, but it is hard to argue with his contact and zone command skills at his age.
The problem is defense and the question is how soon the Yankees will give up on trying to keep him behind the plate. Jesus made some strides in his throwing last year but he doesn't have the foot speed and agility to catch in the big leagues. He can hit well enough to justify a 1B or corner outfield position if he can handle it, but the Yankees should start to try to find out this year if Montero has a career outside of DH.
Some AAA ABs will provide the final tune up, and at this point all that's missing for Montero is an opportunity at the big league level. He can hit well enough to be a fantasy factor no matter where he plays but don't pay a premium for a catching qualification ... You may never see it.
Long Term Fantasy Grade - A-
Seas Lvl AB XBH HR SB AVG OBP SLG BB% K%
2007 R 107 9 3 0 .280 .366 .421 9.8 16.8
2008 A 525 52 17 2 .326 .376 .491 6.5 15.8
2009 A+ 180 24 8 0 .356 .406 .583 7.1 14.4
2009 AA 167 19 9 0 .317 .370 .539 7.7 12.6