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Reds glad to have Chapman on their side

Reds glad to have Chapman on their side

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CINCINNATI -- Reds first baseman Joey Votto remembers the first time he saw Aroldis Chapman pitch on television during the World Baseball Classic.

Mark McGwire

Votto was in Toronto with Team Canada at the time while teammate Jay Bruce was back in Florida for Spring Training. And the left-handed Chapman was pitching for the Cuban national team. Both Votto and Bruce are left-handed hitters that sensed they would have had their hands full against him.

"Jay and I texted about this guy from Cuba," Votto said on Monday night by phone from Florida. "We were really hoping if he came out, we didn't want him to sign anywhere else."

Almost a year later, it became a wish come true. Chapman, who defected from Cuba in July, signed a six-year deal worth $30.25 million with the Reds on Monday.

"Now we don't have to face him except in Spring Training games," Votto said. "I'll probably not want to face him."

The news was well-received by catcher Ryan Hanigan, who will get the unique perspective of directly working with Chapman from behind the plate. The 6-foot-4 left-hander has a fastball velocity in the high 90s and has touched 100 mph. He also has a plus-slider and a developing changeup.

"You can't not be excited when your team gets a guy like that," Hanigan said. "Obviously, we have to see his stuff and what he can do, but with his being a lefty throwing hard and being intimidating, my first instinct is to think it's great for the organization."

Votto believed that the signing will grab the attention of the young team, which is trying to snap a string of nine consecutive losing seasons.

"I was happy about it," Votto said. "This probably is the most shocking signing we've had since Ken Griffey Jr. [before the 2000 season]. I'm not putting him in that class but he's got to be a shock for Reds fans and the players.

"I think it tells fans and players that [management] believes in us and should believe us and have some faith for the long run."

Chapman will be entering a clubhouse that features a strong Latino contingent, with players such as Francisco Cordero, Ramon Hernandez, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez.

There will still be a significant learning curve. Chapman, who will turn 22 in February, has had little exposure to American culture. He doesn't speak English and knows little about Major League Baseball.

"A hard-throwing lefty is a great asset for any team," Hanigan said. "We want him to be a pitcher, not a thrower. As much velocity as he has, he'll have to use all of his pitches. It's never bad to have that velocity. Plus, he's so long with his body and size that it makes him more intimidating.

"Hopefully he can settle in with the team as quickly as possible. I'm excited to work with him and help him feel comfortable so he can reach his ultimate potential. A guy like this has no ceiling. He can be a dominant pitcher in the big leagues."

One of Chapman's first orders of business will be to head to the Reds' complex in Goodyear, Ariz., where he will be introduced to pitching coach Bryan Price. The two will work together, and former Reds star and special assistant Mario Soto will also be involved in working with Chapman.

Price, who was hired in October, has seen very little of Chapman in action and not at all in person.

"I saw about 10-15 pitches on a video from a center-field camera," said Price, who lives in Arizona. "I don't know a great deal about him. I know how well thought of [he is] in the baseball community and our organization. I have to get familiar with all of our pitchers, especially those that were in the Minor Leagues. We'll have a protocol to follow with the organization to work from and build a routine. The biggest thing with Aroldis is to build some routine where he's used to pitching every fifth day. We'll communicate about long-tossing between starts and a weight program."

Chapman has drawn comparisons to another power-throwing lefty, the just-retired Randy Johnson. Chapman is considered a raw talent that still needs to gain command of his pitches -- much like Johnson.

When he was the D-backs pitching coach, Price had Johnson on his staff in 2007-08 when he was well past his prime. Johnson could still reach 95 mph, but not as consistently as he used to.

Price isn't a big believer in comparisons.

"I hope we don't see unrealistic expectations about what Aroldis can accomplish," he said. "Randy didn't become a great pitcher until he got command of the strike zone. Aroldis will define himself by how he develops, learns the game and uses his gifts. We anticipate a wonderful career. Comparisons are an unnecessary weight to put on somebody."

Reds Spring Training starts in 37 days, when players and fans will get their first looks at Chapman as he begins his career. It is still unknown if he will open the 2010 season in the big league rotation, but general manager Walt Jocketty said during Monday's press conference that it wasn't out of the question.

"It's good to hear all of the hype about him," Hanigan said. "At Spring Training, me and Ramon will try to develop a rapport with him and help him get comfortable as he can. It's going to be fun."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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