Originally posted on The Baseball Page  |  Last updated 4/17/12

BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor

The sky looked as if it was the limit for Cuban flamethrower Aroldis Chapman when he made his Major League debut for the Cincinnati Reds two years ago.

Chapman dazzled baseball fans when he hit 103 MPH on the gun during his first outing on American soil. It seemed as if the 24-year-old Cuban Missile was destined for greatness. But injury and uncertainty plagued the young lefty early in his career. Although he tossed at speeds that are pretty much unheard of (including a 105 mile per hour pitch, which would be a Major League record), Chapman’s control was a question mark. Many predicted he would be a dominant starter, yet he couldn’t prove it to his own manager, Dusty Baker. And maybe Baker was right after he witnessed his 6-foot-4 hurler walk a disappointing 41 hitters in 50 innings last year.

But Baker better be second guessing what Chapman can do for his club in 2012. After losing out on a back-end of the rotation job to the formerly highly-touted prospect Homer Bailey in Spring Training because of control issues, Baker elected to throw Chapman back into the bullpen. The manager’s decision only proved to be a wake up call for the velocity-driven youngster.

 

So far this season, Chapman has absolutely shined as a middle reliever for the Reds. He’s been nearly unhittable, striking out an eye-opening 15 batters in just eight innings. Imagine if he pulled off that feat in one start. The question is, could he?

Baker obviously doesn’t think so right now. And that poor judgement may isn’t going over too well in Cincy. Fans’ reactions and people like myself throughout the blogosphere are wondering how Baker could be misusing his young star so badly. The sad part is that it’s Chapman and the Reds (4-6 overall) who are suffering. Chapman has only shown that his command is no longer a problem, walking zero batters during his aforementioned eight innings. One could even make the argument that Chapman is currently the best pitcher in baseball, but it would be a tough debate to win because the Reds only use the hard thrower two innings at a time. It seems sort of like a waste, considering Cincinnati signed him to a six-year deal worth $30.25 million contract in 2010. But it’s those kind of numbers that demand for Chapman to be in the rotation, and for that decision to come sooner than later.

So how would Chapman fair as a starter?

It’s tough to say because he’s never had that chance. Skeptics don’t believe a guy who can consistently throw more that 100 MPH could last a full season in a rotation. And those naysayers are probably right. But why not still experiment? Chapman’s arm is so special, Cincinnati should at least ponder about using a six-man rotation or make Chapman at least an overused spot starter. I know if I were running the Reds, it would be worth the risk.

However, it’s a chance that Baker isn’t willing to roll the dice with. His reasoning for holding the youngster back is that the team needs another lefty reliever and because the bullpen was weakened when both Ryan Madson and Bill Bray suffered substantial injuries. Baker’s excuses are gutless. In fact, they’ve left all of us in the baseball world scratching out heads.

Baker dangled a possible starting rotation spot in front of Chapman for almost the entirety of Spring Training. Chapman may have blown his opportunity, but he only bounced back like a true professional when it actually mattered. And now Reds fans are chomping at the bit to see this modern marvel take the hill in the first inning.

It should only be a matter of time before Baker comes to his senses. So don’t expect Chapman’s talents to go to waste for too much longer. After all, if the Denver Broncos and Tebowmania taught us anything, it’s that fans can get what they want. They just have to beg, chant and plead for it. Who knows, maybe if a few billboards pop up in downtown Cincinnati in support of getting Chapman on the hill at the beginning of a game, we could finally see this kid’s true potential.

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