That was the speed of a fastball delivered last Friday night in Louisville by Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban lefthander who defected to the U.S. during the offseason and signed a six-year, $30.25 million major league contract with Cincinnati. No matter the veracity of the radar gun at a minor league ballpark -- though the reading was confirmed by a scout -- any pitch that approaches 105 miles per hour is nearly unfathomable.
The raw but precociously talented former star of the Cuban national team will now get his first crack at the major leagues. The Reds are promoting Chapman before tonight's game to complement crafty veteran Arthur Rhodes as a second lefty reliever.
Chapman, who has allowed just two earned runs in his last 21-2/3 minor league innings, headlines the list of September call-ups in the annual late-season rite of passage for promising young players who get a taste of the majors when rosters expand from 25 players to 40. In Chapman's case, his promotion comes one day in advance of Sept. 1, making him eligible for the Reds' postseason roster should they stave off a late charge by the Cardinals. (A few others on the list below, even if they're called up in September, could participate in the playoffs as replacements for players who are on the disabled list.)
Chapman's long-term future is as a starter, but he's more helpful to the Reds as a reliever, so after making 13 starts at Triple A Louisville, he was shifted to the bullpen in late June. Several other September call-ups will also be utilized for only a part of their skill set as they help their clubs make a playoff push. Others will become everyday players in the hope they will provide fans with a coming attraction.
Youth has already made quite an impact this season. The National League boasts a host of strong rookie-of-the-year candidates, and other late-season call-ups have been making a difference, due to a starter's injury at the major league level or because their teams, such as the Orioles and Pirates, have been playing for the future most of the season. So while you know about pitchers like the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson and the Yankees' Ivan Nova, or position players such as Angels centerfielder Peter Bourjos and Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, more are sure to generate headlines after being called up in the coming month.
Several promising pitchers (such as the Mariners' Michael Pineda) won't get the call because they've already reached their innings limits for the season and others (pitcher Louis Coleman and third baseman Mike Moustakas of the Royals) will likely be held back because they are not on their club's 40-man roster. (Only players with a major league contract are eligible for a September call-up.)
So in addition to Chapman, be on the lookout for:
Since being traded from the White Sox for reliever Tony Peña last July, Allen has pounded the ball at Triple A, hitting 37 home runs with 116 RBIs in 143 games over the past year and a half with Arizona's affiliate in Reno. A burly 6'-2", 235 pound slugger, Allen had an unspectacular 32-game call-up in late August and September last year in which he batted .202 with a .284 on-base percentage and four home runs, but his plate discipline (. 404 OBP thanks to 82 walks in 105 games) has significantly improved in the minors this season. The natural first baseman, blocked by Adam LaRoche in the majors, is learning to play leftfield, a position that has been a revolving door for the Diamondbacks.
The starter who opposed Chapman on the day the lefty hit 105 on the gun was Carrasco. His fastball was below 100, but he allowed just one run over seven innings in what was most likely his final minor league start. A week ago, Indians manager Manny Acta said Carrasco would not only be promoted but join Cleveland's rotation, probably at the expense of Justin Masterson, whom the Tribe may return to the bullpen. A 6'-3" righthander from Venezuela, Carrasco was awful (0-4, 8.87 ERA) in five September starts last year, but the Indians are much more confident in his development: 10-6 with a 3.65 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 150 1/3 innings at Triple A Columbus this season. If not for a forearm injury earlier in the year, he'd already be in the majors.
Once upon a time, Fields was the star of the White Sox farm system. He was a two-sport star at Oklahoma State as a third baseman and quarterback, a first-round pick by Chicago in 2004, and he homered in his first major league at bat, in 2006. The following year, his OBP was only .308 but he hit 23 homers in 100 games in the big leagues. Then his development hit a wall: a combined .214 with a .292 OBP and seven homers in 93 major league games in '08 and '09, during which time he lost his job to Gordon Beckham and was traded, along with Chris Getz, to Kansas City for Mark Teahen. Now Fields is on a comeback tour. After having hip surgery in April, he's hit .415 in his first 12 minor league games in the Royals' system. His talent has always been there and he'll get another chance to display it this September.
The Indians have been unable to find any meaningful offense at third base since the trade of Jhonny Perlata to the Tigers. Jayson Nix, Luis Valebuena and Andy Marte have swung mostly competent bats in the games they've started at third, but they've been dreadful in the field. That's why Goedert will get a good long look. A ninth-round pick out of Kansas State in 2006, he played the first third of the season in Double A before moving to Triple A, collectively hitting .290 with a .364 OBP, 26 home runs and 78 RBI in 117 games. Goedert, however, is not yet on the Indians' 40-man roster, so another player will have to be designated for assignment to make room for him.
Long considered the heir apparent to free-agent-to-be Carl Crawford, Jennings may get a bit role this September. Tampa Bay's recent acquisition of Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe likely cut into the at-bats Jennings will get, but the speedster could serve as a defensive replacement and pinch runner, similar to what outfielder Fernando Perez did with the Rays during their playoff run in 2008. Jennings began the year slowly because of injuries, but in 108 games in Triple A he has a .363 OBP and leads the International League with 37 stolen bases.
Less heralded and older than Chapman, the 28-year-old Maya quietly signed a four-year, $6 million contract on July 31. He won the Cuban National Series' equivalent of the Cy Young Award last year after going 13-4 with seven complete games and a 2.22 ERA. In four starts on three minor league levels in August, he was 0-2 with a 4.02 ERA in 15-2/3 innings, but had 15 strikeouts. After defecting last fall, Maya wasn't cleared to sign with a major league team until May, so building his arm strength back has been a process. He's expected to join fellow Cuban Livan Hernandez in the Nationals' rotation, though Maya won't be going very deep in games.
Hellickson isn't the only Ray getting a crash course in relief pitching in the minors. McGee, a 6'-3" lefty, is doing it at Triple A, presumably in order to help the big league club this fall. He had a 3.57 ERA in 19 starts in Double A before he was promoted to Durham, where he's made one start and seven relief appearances with spectacular results. He has yet to allow an earned run in 12-2/3 innings and has yielded only four hits and one walk while striking out 20. Randy Choate has been Tampa Bay's only lefthanded reliever all season -- though he's allowed only one earned run since July 18, his ERA before that date was 6.56 -- so McGee would be another weapon out of the bullpen, one that can also get righties out.
A 6'-6", 260-pound corner outfielder, Taylor hasn't had quite the season he likely expected in Triple A. He's hit .263 with just five home runs and a poor .381 slugging percentage, but he was a coveted prospect in the Phillies system. He was traded last offseason amid a flurry of deals at the time Philadelphia acquired Roy Halladay. While splitting time in Double A and Triple A in 2009, Taylor mashed 20 home runs with a .320 average, .395 OBP and .549 slugging pct. Oakland is surely hoping for some good news from its top hitting prospects after Chris Carter started his major league career 0-for-19 before being sent back down to Triple A.
Trumbo has little more to prove in Triple A after belting his Salt Lake Bees-record 32nd and 33rd home runs on Monday night. He also has 113 RBI and a .302 average in 132 games. This is his first year at Triple A, but it's surprising that he didn't get an earlier shot at the majors, given the injury to Angels first baseman Kendry Morales. Trumbo has played 23 games in the outfield this year to increase his versatility for when Morales returns next season. In September, he should get plenty of opportunities to see what his bat can do while he makes himself comfortable at first base.