Chapman unveils 97 mph fastball for suitors

For the dozens of baseball men wondering whether Aroldis Chapman’s official unveiling was worth the trip, the left-hander had an emphatic, 97-mph answer with his final pitch.

Sure was.

Aroldis Chapman, pictured in February, dazzled scouts in a bullpen session on Tuesday in Houston.
(Getty Images)

Executives and scouts came out of Tuesday’s 30-or-so-pitch bullpen session in Houston raving about the 21-year-old who defected from Cuba in July and will command big dollars on the free-agent market.

Just how much money depends on how Chapman’s new agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks, can intensify the bidding. At least 15 teams had officials at the workout, according to two sources who were present, and everyone came away impressed that the 6-foot-4 Chapman sat around 93 mph with his fastball despite not throwing with maximum effort and ramped up with his last throw.

Chapman’s first impression in the U.S. came during the World Baseball Classic last March when he touched 100 mph in a second-round game against Japan at Petco Park in San Diego but was lifted in the third inning, having thrown only 27 strikes in 50 pitches. He has been clocked at 102 mph in international competition, and could be the hardest-throwing left-hander playing today. Although he didn’t come close to that velocity in Tuesday’s workout, he wasn’t expected to because he hasn’t thrown against competition since his defection.

“He was very impressive,” one official at the workout said. “It was a perfect workout just to prove he’s healthy and that he’s the same guy we all think he is.”

Which is an eventual front-of-the-rotation starter, and the best to leave Cuba since Jose Contreras(notes) defected in 2002. The New York Yankees won the Contreras bidding with a four-year $32 million contract, and while Chapman doesn’t come with nearly the polish, the sources at the workout expect Chapman to fetch somewhere in the $24 million range.

The usual suspects for such high-priced talent attended the workout: The Yankees sent a scout, and the Boston Red Sox’s international scouting director, Craig Shipley, was there. Others from lower-revenue teams joined in the fray: Houston Astros general manager Ed Wade, Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, Florida Marlins assistant GMs Jim Fleming and Dan Jennings, Oakland A’s assistant GM David Forst and Baltimore Orioles international scouting director John Stockstill.

“We have very good feedback on his side session,” Randy Hendricks said.

Chapman, dressed in workout togs, threw a 15- to 20-pitch session to start, took a short break, and returned with 15 more pitches. He mixed in a slider and changeup – “They’re plenty good with the fastball,” a scout said – and cut away some of the mystery surrounding him after a tortuous defection process.

After leaving the Cuban national team in the Netherlands, Chapman quickly signed with Athletes Premier International, a fledgling sports agency, which established his residency in the tiny nation of Andorra and worked him out for teams in Barcelona. Chapman moved to New York, met with Red Sox and Orioles officials and was being floated with a $60 million price tag when he abruptly dumped Athletes Premier and signed with the high-profile Hendrickses.

The fallout came Tuesday morning, when Athletes Premier filed a lawsuit against Hendricks Sports for “tortious interference” – or the intentional breaking up of a contract between two parties. Athletes Premier will seek expenses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, along with the commission on Chapman’s contract.

One official at the workout said his dealings with Athletes Premier were somewhat haphazard, calling it “a little bit of a circus. You didn’t know when you were allowed to make a bid. When he was going to work out. The Hendricks brothers help legitimize this thing.”

Chapman, meanwhile, went along unfazed Tuesday. He legitimized himself as someone who, at most, will need a bit of seasoning in the minor leagues and could well find himself in an opening day rotation.

“If he’s not,” a scout said, “it’s only because he’s got a couple of things to learn about pitching.”

The Hendricks brothers spent Tuesday afternoon in meetings with some of the teams at the workout. The two sources in attendance expect bids to start coming in soon – and higher than Boston’s $15.5 million offer first reported by ESPN.com. One official said he believes Chapman will sign in early January.

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Dec 15, 2009