Chapman, Strasburg dazzle in debuts
Phenoms begin journey to Majors with impressive outings
They hail from different countries, speak different languages and throw with different hands. But the similarities between Aroldis Chapman and Stephen Strasburg are just as striking.
They each sport electric stuff.
They each signed hefty contracts.
They each possess promising futures and, perhaps, bear the weight of unfair expectations.
And they each shined on Sunday.
That was the day Strasburg and Chapman made their respective pro debuts. And while the two golden-armed rookies hope to build the kind of resumes that will eventually make an early season Minor League game irrelevant, April 11 currently serves as the latest proof of just how special the two can be.
Chapman gave up one unearned run on five hits while striking out nine and walking one in 4 2/3 innings.
Strasburg gave up one earned run (four total) on four hits while striking out eight and walking two in five innings.
Each got the win, each blew hitters away with blistering heat, and each seemingly rose to the occasion despite pitching in the type of electric atmosphere that's unusual at the Double-A and Triple-A level.
But, for perspective purposes, both are still trying to hone secondary pitches, neither has any sort of big league experience and, well, the sample size is still quite small.
"At a given time, he's going to be ready to pitch in the big leagues," Rick Sweet, manager of the Reds' Triple-A affiliate, said about Chapman. "He could probably pitch in the big leagues right now and have success. The timetable is nothing more than him getting his whole game together. He's got some things to work on other than pitching."
The same could be said about Strasburg, though he -- like Chapman -- looked a lot like the ace he was projected to become before receiving a record $15.1 million from the Nationals as the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.
While suiting up for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, facing the Altoona Curve and pitching in front of an over-capacity crowd of 7,877 at Blair County Ballpark in Altoona, Penn., Strasburg fired his first pitch at 99 mph -- though one radar gun read 100 mph -- threw comfortably in the 97-99-mph range all game, froze hitters with nasty breaking balls -- including twice to get out of a tough jam in the fourth -- and even worked in a changeup on the outside corner.
"I think the breaking ball was working pretty well," the 21-year-old righty said. "The fastball was there, and then there were times I wasn't locating it the way I wanted to. That comes and goes. There's going to be games when everything feels great in the bullpen, and then you go out there and it just isn't clicking. You have to move on and build off of it, and that's exactly what I'm going to do."
Chapman certainly provided enough to build off.
The lanky 6-foot-4 Cuban defector could barely fit into his baggy Louisville Bats uniform, but he fit right in against pro hitters.
In fact, some believe the 22-year-old Chapman may have already outgrown the likes of what he faced on Sunday.
The southpaw threw 55 of his 85 pitches for strikes, and among them, 10 pitches read 99 mph or faster on the radar gun, and five of those reached triple-digits. Of the five hits he scattered to the Toledo Mud Hens, all were singles and only one left the infield.
"I was happy today that everything went about how I wanted it to," Chapman, who signed a $30.25 million contract with the Reds in January, said through an interpreter. "Of course, there were pitches that couldn't do what I wanted them to, but overall, I was happy."
So, too, were the front-office members of the Reds and Nationals, who must have let out a collective grin after solid outings from their prized prospects.
A grin, however, is all that's justified at this point.
Nobody really knows when the Major League callups of Chapman and Strasburg will occur, and no matter the hype, stuff and track record each came in with, it's hard to gauge how they'll build off their pro debuts.
But considering all the hoopla that surrounded Chapman and Strasburg, the belief was that there was nothing they could do to further increase the level of expectations.
And then Sunday happened.
"No debut compares to that at this level," Sweet said about Chapman's outing, though he could have also been talking about the Nats prospect pitching about 300 miles away. "As soon as the radar gun hit 100, you could hear the buzz in the ballpark."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Jonathan Mayo and Joe Vardon contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.