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Know Your Prospects: Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Unsigned

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Oakland’s Matt Holliday, Boston’s Jason Bay, and Los Angeles’ John Lackey are all going to be free agents after the 2009 season.

The bidding war over them promises to be intense.

But according to some analysts, they won’t be the focal point of the winter.

That distinction would belong to Aroldis Chapman. Chances are you haven’t heard of him.

Chances are, you will.

Know the name.

Chapman is a 6’4″, 180 pound, 21-year-old out of Cuba. His fastball has been clocked at 102 miles per hour, both in the first inning and later in the game.

He’s a lefty. Yes, a lefty that throws 102 miles per hour.

On July 2, Chapman defected from his native Cuba during a national tournament in the Netherlands. He walked out the team’s hotel door and never returned. Yesterday, Chapman signed with an agent, meaning it’s just a matter of time before teams start negotiating for his services.

ESPN’s Buster Olney calls Chapman a “left-handed Stephen Strasburg.” Scouts consider him the best left-handed pitching prospect in the world. He is, without a doubt, the best Cuban player to defect since Jose Contreras in 2003.

In addition to his devastating fastball, Chapman throws, according to one his former general managers, a plus-slider and plus-curveball. Some question his mental approach to the game and American scouts do not praise his offspeed offerings.

In the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Chapman posted a 5.68 ERA in 6 1/3 innings and during the 2008 Cuban National Series, he accumulated a 4.03 ERA in just over 118 innings.

Chapman should command somewhere in the range of $30-60 million. In 2003, Contreras was given a $32 million contract by the New York Yankees. Two years ago, with negotiating fees included, the Red Sox paid $103 million for Daisuke Matsusaka. Chapman’s final contract should land on the high end of that scale, as he’s much younger than those two were, he’s played on a big stage, and because of the tantalizing skill set.

So, everyone get used to the name: you’ll be hearing it often in about four months.

Aroldis Chapman: Cuban defector, owner of the 102 mile per hour heater.

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Tuffy’s making things look easy in Japan.

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The Orix Buffalo’s Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes mashed three homeruns on Sunday, making him the 12th player in Japanese baseball history to reach 450 homeruns.

In 2001, Rhodes accomplished a similar feat when he tied Sadaharu Oh’s then-record for single season homeruns. His Japanese competitors, unwilling to destroy a legend’s record, famously pitched around Rhodes for the rest of the season, never giving him a chance to break it.

Rhodes, a gaijin playing his 13th season in Japan, spent parts of six major league seasons with the Astros, Red Sox, and Cubs. His time in America was far less memorable, as he sported a paltry .224 average with a measly 13 homeruns. The only real cool thing he did was club three monstrous blasts off Dwight Gooden on Opening Day in 1994.

Rhodes will always be a favorite...

I love Tuffy Rhodes and couldn’t be happier for him. It’s great to see someone excel in baseball, even if it’s not at the “major league level.” Even though Rhode’s success never translated here, his hitting in Japan is the stuff of legend that I will someday tell my children about.

Congratulations.