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Chapman and Strasburg: What is to be Done?

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What I Would Do with Chapman and Strasburg

Well, we finally got to see Aroldis Chapman and Stephen Strasburg in actual game action, and the results were quite strong.

Chapman made the Royals look silly with his 100 MPH fastball; veteran scout Art Stewart said he has the best southpaw arm he's seen since Herb Score.

A fireballing lefty, Herb Score had two amazing seasons with the Cleveland Indians in 1955 and 1956 at age 22/23, but he hurt his arm and was never the same after that, reminding us that even the very best young pitching prospect is still a pitching prospect and carries significant risk. As for Chapman, he showed more polish in his first spring outing than pre-season reports indicated, though of course we need to see if that holds up.

So what should the Reds do with Chapman? If he continues to pitch like this, pressure to bring him north will increase. I can understand that. I don't know and can't predict what will happen roster-wise, but I can tell you what I would do if I were in Cincy's shoes. If he keeps blowing people away this spring, I would be publically non-committal about bringing him north until the last minute, then assign him to Double-A Carolina to begin the season. I would keep him there for a minimum of 10 starts, focusing on getting him acclimated to the United States, the language, and professional baseball. Even if he's blowing people away, the cultural transition can be a very difficult one for Cuban players. Psychologically, if he has a rough adjustment it could have a negative impact on what happens on the field. Therefore, I would be cautious until I was sure he is comfortable off-the-field as well as on.

After 10 starts, I would re-assess. If he's struggling or just mediocre, leave him there. If he's dominating the league, I'd move him up to Triple-A Louisville. At Louisville I'd re-assess after five starts. If he's shutting down Triple-A, then I'd promote him to the majors at that point. If he's struggling or mediocre, I'd leave him there until September. So, if I were in charge of Cincinnati's player development, Chapman would get a minimum of 15 starts in Double-A and Triple-A before being pushed into major league action.

Stephen Strasburg, meanwhile, was also very impressive in his spring training debut, although he threw "only" 98 MPH compared to Chapman's 100. Like Chapman, Strasburg will put a lot of pressure on Washington's front office if he has a good spring. And as with Chapman, if I were running the show I'd send him to the minors to start his pro career even if he continues to shut hitters down.

In Strasburg's case, the cultural/language adjustment factor isn't an issue, but I would still rather not rush him. The Nationals aren't going to win this year even if Strasburg makes 32 starts and throws 200 innings. I'd start him off at Double-A Harrisburg, with the same 10-starts-before-promotion philosophy I have with Chapman. Even Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens spent time in the minors, and it can't possibly hurt Strasburg to do the same. It can only help him.

Generally speaking, my philosophy for the advancement of pitching prospects is quite conservative, even in cases of extreme talent like Chapman and Strasburg. Of course, this is all theoretical: I'm not running a team, and it is easy to make grand philosophical pronouncements when millions of dollars are not on the actual line. Real teams face the pressure to win now, and sometimes that overrides the long-term consideration of pure player development.