The Reds have penciled in the Cuban Missile as a starter for each of the past two seasons at the outset of spring training, but circumstances led Chapman to closing during the regular season instead. Now that former Reds pitching coach Bryan Price is manager, the third time will be the charm for Chapman's odyssey as a big-league starter to begin.
The Big Cuban Unit
The biggest reason the Reds should want to have Chapman start is his potential. With two devastating pitches in his 100+ miles per hour fastball and wicked 92-mph slider, Chapman has the ability to become a dominant left-handed starter of the Randy Johnson ilk. The likeness is nothing new and was touted as the motivation for the announcement before spring training last year that Chapman would be a starter for the 2013 season.
That potential will ring truer for Price than anyone else, who stated last year in the article linked above that the longer the Reds wait to convert Chapman to starter, the less chance there is of finding out if Chapman can be one of the best starting pitchers of his generation.
"But I also have a feeling in my heart that he's not going to be the best possible pitcher he can be until he throws enough innings to master his craft," he said. "I think this kid has untapped potential, but it won't come out until we give him an opportunity to mature as a pitcher. Does he have a chance to be one of the better starters of his generation? The longer we wait, the less chance we have of ever finding out."
The Loss of Bronson Arroyo
If the Reds opt not to pursue Bronson Arroyo for another gig as starting pitcher, Chapman's time will come. The strength of the Reds' five-man rotation in 2013 kicked Chapman back into the bullpen for the season. Now that Arroyo has left a vacancy in the rotation, it belongs to Chapman.
A rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake would be a World Series-contending one, much more so than if Arroyo or any other pitcher on the Reds' 40-man roster was in the rotation rather than Chapman.
What About Tony Cingrani?
Lefty Tony Cingrani availed himself well in 2013 as the starter who replaced Johnny Cueto. Cingrani has a bright future as a starter for the Reds, but his future can wait. Compared to Chapman, Cingrani is an impressive one-trick pony for now with far less overpowering potential than Chapman.
Cingrani's versatility would make him the frontrunner to replace Chapman as closer until Jonathan Broxton returns to form. But his ability to switch from the bullpen to starter would also make him the first pitcher in line to join the rotation in the event of an injury to one of the five starters.
Health of Cueto and Latos
The recurring lat injury suffered by Cueto landed him on the disabled list three times during 2013. His comeback at the end of the season ended with a disappointing performance in the NL wild-card game, but his heath appears to be intact.
Latos had surgery on the elbow of his throwing arm after the season and should be expected to return to full health for the 2014 season.
But in the event that neither Cueto nor Latos does regain full health and stay healthy throughout the season, Chapman and his ace-caliber pitches in the rotation is nice insurance to have.
The Reds have advanced to the postseason three of the past four years but have faltered badly. Adding another potentially dominant starter like Chapman could be the final piece needed for the Reds to finally turn the corner.
With a full season under his belt as a starter, Chapman may very well prove to be the ace of the staff by the time the 2014 season ends. But there's only one way to find that out.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2013 Reds' season here.
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