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Early rave reviews for Chapman

Early rave reviews for Chapman

CINCINNATI -- Most of the baseball world will have to wait at least another three weeks for Spring Training to open before getting a first glance at pitcher Aroldis Chapman.

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Not Bryan Price. The Reds' new pitching coach got an advanced look at Chapman last week in Arizona. The Cuban left-hander spent five days at the team's complex in Goodyear, where he worked out and threw in the bullpen.

His extra-early review?

"I was very impressed," Price said by phone from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "He was more advanced than I anticipated in regard to his delivery and location and his ability with three pitches.

"We got a lot of good work in. We introduced him to our strength and conditioning plan, bullpen routines and shoulder and scapula exercises. We told him what to expect for Spring Training. Those factors will pay dividends when camp starts on Feb. 18."

A 21-year-old that defected from Cuba last summer, Chapman was signed to a six-year, $30.25 million contract by the Reds on Jan. 11. However, he's had limited exposure to the United States, no exposure to the Major League environment and he is still unable to understand English. Price, and manager Dusty Baker, will communicate with him in Spanish.

Before going to Arizona, Chapman had spent time in Florida working with Minor League pitching coordinator Mack Jenkins and rookie-level pitching coach Tony Fossas. Both men accompanied Chapman to Goodyear.

"That will help with his transition," Price said. "They are heavily involved with Aroldis getting used to our system."

Despite having a high-90s fastball that has reached 100 in the past, Chapman was considered by many to be a raw product that still needed work done in improving his command.

Perhaps the learning curve will be shorter than originally anticipated.

"I had seen all of the video we had on him and I had the chance to see his games from the World Baseball Classic," Price said. "By the time he had gotten here, he had already made some adjustments that were very positive. His mechanics were straighter and his delivery was better. He didn't throw it much but his slider was better. It tells me he was aware that adjustments were needed and that the adjustments came quickly since he didn't have a lot of coaching since he defected."

Of course, there are questions that will be asked repeatedly during camp. How close to the Major Leagues is Chapman? When could he join Cincinnati's rotation?

Price will have a hand in the recommendations but the decision will ultimately fall on Baker and general manager Walt Jocketty.

"Nothing would surprise or disappoint me," Price said. "He will turn 22 in February. His arm and athleticism say he's not far away. We'll have six weeks to see where he is. He could either be ready for the big leagues by April 5 or he might still have to add some polish in the Minor Leagues. We just want to get him here and get acclimated and we'll wait and see.

"I was with him for a week and he impressed me in that week. I hope he can show growth over those six weeks and make it a hard decision."

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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