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Reds' top prospect will start against Mud Hens

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Reds' top prospect will start against Mud Hens

By STEVE JUNGABLADE SPORTS WRITER

The past nine months have been a whirlwind in the life of Cuban pitching prospect Aroldis Chapman, who has both realized a dream and experienced an emotional break in his life.

On the upside - after he defected from his native country July 1 while competing for the Cuban national team in The Netherlands - Chapman established residency in Andorra, successfully petitioned Major League Baseball for free agency status, and ultimately signed a six-year, $30.25 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

On the downside, he left his family in Cuba, including his father, mother, two sisters, and a girlfriend (Raidelmis Medosa Santiesfelas) who is the mother of his baby daughter, Ashanti Brianna.

Such is life these days for the 22-year-old left-handed sensation, a 6-foot-4, 185-pounder whose fastball has been clocked at 102 mph, and who is arguably the top lefty prospect in the world.

"I feel good now, but to be honest sometimes I feel sad," Chapman said through an interpreter at a press conference yesterday. "I miss my family, and I wish they could be here.

"But I know that they back me up, and every time I talk to them they give me a lot of input. To be honest, I wish I could have them [here] with me."

Upon signing and joining the Reds in spring training, Chapman was in the running for a major-league spot as Cincinnati's No. 5 starter. That was until back spasms last month knocked him off the fast track for opening day.

Instead, Chapman will make his American professional debut at the Triple-A level tomorrow in Toledo when Louisville faces the Mud Hens in a 2 p.m. at Fifth Third Field.

"The biggest adjustment has been the language barrier," Chapman said . "The biggest difference I noticed is the power hitters in American baseball compared to Cuban baseball, and the discipline of American baseball is one of the best things they have."

Before successfully defecting last summer, Chapman failed in an earlier attempt in the spring of 2008. That getaway bid led Chapman to a meeting with Cuban president Raul Castro, the younger brother of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Chapman was suspended from participating in Cuba's National Series season and was taken off the national team for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic games.

After being reinstated he made his break during a World Port tournament, entering a vehicle outside of the Cuban team's hotel in Rotterdam.

During spring training Chapman worked in five games before experiencing back spasms, totaling 122/3 innings with 15 strikeouts and seven walks and posting a 1.69 earned run average.

"There's not any pressure on me," Chapman said of the high expectations inherent with his contract. "I signed the contract, and the only thing I have to do is get on the field."

Why did he agree to the Reds' offer?

"My agent told me signing with the Cincinnati Reds was more opportunity for myself," he said. "The Cincinnati [organization] has a lot of Latinos who will be good help for me to develop and also get the American culture."

Chapman's attraction to major league teams was obvious, but one hurdle may be his lack of experience.

"I worked really hard to get to where I am," he said. "But that's not the only thing that helps me do what I do. Throwing 100 miles per hour is a tool and a gift that I have from God. God helped me, and I'm really proud to be able to throw a ball that fast.

"My emphasis [now] is on my other pitches. I need to keep working on those pitches, and I think I've actually been getting better with those. If I continue to do this I will be able to pitch in the big leagues."

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