Lefty Cuban pitching sensation Aroldis Chapman defected from his national team in July and he is currently a coveted unsigned Major League Baseball free agent.
ESPN The Magazine reported in the summer that Chapman vacated his hotel room in the Netherlands, where Cuba was in the midst of participating in a baseball tournament, and never returned.
“I walked out easily, right through the hotel door, and I hopped into a car and left,” said Chapman, 21, whose fastball has been clocked as high as 102 MPH. “It was easy. Now the plan is to sign with a major league team.”
Chapman, who has often been lauded as one of the “three greatest pitchers in the world right now who are not in the majors,” should be the New York Yankees top-priority to sign this offseason.
“It’s safe to assume we would have interest in Chapman,” said Yankees senior vice president Mark Newman.
The Yankees have signed two high-profile Cuban defectors, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Jose Contreras, since the 1998 season began.
Hernandez, who won four World Series championships and was named the ALCS MVP in 1999, was a tremendous success in the Bronx and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest postseason performers on the hill in recent times.
Contreras, who inked a four-year contract worth $32 million with the Yankees in 2003, was viewed as a disappointment in pinstripes.
Nevertheless, Contreras has won 73 major league games to date and he was selected as an All-Star when he played for the Chicago White Sox in 2006.
“Without a doubt, he (Chapman) is the best player to defect since Contreras,” said Chapman’s agent, Jaime Torres.
According to records, Hernandez is a 40-year-old man and Contreras is 37.
In reality, nobody knows the actual ages of either Hernandez or Contreras.
It is certainly feasible that the combined ages of the two are approaching the dreaded century mark.
Fortunately, Chapman’s age is presumed to be accurate and he is a legitimate prospect who could have an immediate impact in the majors.
“This is shocking,” one international scouting director said about Chapman’s defection.
Another scout claimed that some evaluators believe Chapman is a left-handed version of Stephen Strasburg, who was the first overall selection in the MLB Draft last June.
“He’s pretty special,” added another official.
Chapman struggled mightily when he pitched for Cuba last spring in the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
In 6 1/3 innings, Chapman posted an unseemly 5.68 ERA.
Skeptics readily acknowledge the obvious and admit that Chapman owns an above average fastball.
However, many critics contend that his secondary pitches are subpar and that has created some concern about his overall abilities.
For those reasons, some scouts view Chapman as a raw project who would need to be seasoned in the minors before he made his debut in the majors.
“I think the fastball he showed at the Classic was good enough,” said Torres.
There is no dispute that both Lackey, 31, and Halladay, 32, are tremendous hurlers who are extremely established starting pitchers in the majors.
Nevertheless, considering the advanced ages of the two and what the Yankees would need to surrender in order acquire either of them, Chapman is a far more logical gamble than Lackey or Halladay is.
“I’m very happy,” said Chapman, who was forced to leave behind his father, mother, two sisters, girlfriend and newborn baby when he defected.
“This is the plan that I had and this is the decision I took. I wanted to test myself in the highest levels of baseball.”
The Yankees are the most successful team in the history of Major League Baseball and North American professional sports as a whole.
If the Bombers brass is wise, they will allow Chapman to “test” himself at “the highest levels” in the Bronx.
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