2013 Top Prospects #4: Marcus Stroman
The number four prospect in the Jays Journal top prospect ranking is arguably one of the most discussed and enigmatic players in Toronto’s system for a multitude of reasons. One thing that can’t be questioned, however, is that 80-grade smile.
Name: Marcus Stroman
Position: Right Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 05/01/1991 (22)
Acquired: Selected in the 1st round of the 2012 draft ($1,800,000 USD)
High School: Patchogue Medford High School (New York)
College: Duke University (North Carolina)
Height/Weight: 5’9”/185 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
- Ranked by Baseball America as Toronto’s 3rd best prospect after 2012
- Ranked by Baseball America as Baseball’s 98th best prospect after 2012
- Ranked by Baseball Prospectus as Toronto’s 6th best prospect after 2012
- Currently ranked by MLB.com as Toronto’s 3rd best prospect and Baseball’s 99th best prospect
Marcus Stroman rocking his 80 grade smile (Photo credit: MLB Prospect Portal)
2012 Statistics and Analysis
3-0, 19.1 IP, 16 H, 7 ER, 1 HR, 9 BB, 23 K
3.26 ERA (2.89 FIP), 1.29 WHIP, 10.71 K/9, 4.19 BB/9
The Blue Jays agreed to terms with Stroman on July 3rd, allowing the right hander to get into game action in his draft year – something that had become a bit of a rare occurrence under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement. The organization gave him a cautious assignment with Vancouver of the Northwest League, allowing Stroman to acclimate himself to both the Canadian culture and professional atmosphere in a low-stress environment. He responded by striking out 15 batters in 11 and a third innings over seven relief appearances. Marcus earned himself a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire where he continued to serve out of the bullpen, and in his eight innings (spanning eight appearances) with the club, he continued to rattle off strikeouts, notching another eight. Unfortunately, he lost his fastball command a little bit, walking six batters and allowing his first career home run. Regrettably, that wasn’t the lowest point in Stroman’s season, as in late August he was busted for accidentally ingesting Methylhexaneamine, a stimulant banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The result was a 50 game suspension, and the conclusion of his season.
2013 Statistics and Analysis
8-4, 100.2 IP, 90 H, 36 ER, 13 HR, 24 BB, 117 K
3.22 ERA (3.19 FIP), 1.13 WHIP, 10.46 K/9, 2.15 BB/9
The aforementioned 50 game suspension held Stroman out of game action for the first six weeks of the season, delaying his debut until May 19th. He imploded for seven earned runs in just one inning of work in his third start of the season, then proceeded to lower his season ERA in 11 of his next 12 starts. Stroman was one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues over that stretch, striking out 86 batters and allowing just 18 earned runs over 73 innings (10.60 K/9, 2.22 ERA). The highlight of his season thus far is arguably the month of July, as he tied the New Hampshire club record for strikeouts in a game twice, racking up 13 punch-outs on both the 2nd and 31st. The only negative of his year has been the long ball, as Stroman has allowed 13 big flies in just over one hundred innings of work. Height may not measure heart, but it sure does affect the downward plane on a fastball. Despite his velocity, when Stroman misses up, he can get in trouble, and limiting the home run appears to be the only thing he really needs to work on at this point.
Video (via MLBProspectPortal.com)
Given that he played shortstop in high school and second base at Duke (solely to protect his arm from throws across the diamond) in addition to his pitching, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Marcus Stroman is an outstanding athlete. His arm strength is a huge asset, and it really shines through his compact delivery as he has a quick release and generates outstanding arm speed coming from the low 3/4 slot. He has a wiry strong build, and at just 5-foot-9, there is no physical projection remaining –- something rarely said about Blue Jays pitching prospects. Stroman is very quick to the plate both from the windup and the stretch, giving his catchers a fair opportunity to limit the advance of base runners. His mechanics are relatively sound and straight forward, though it appears to me as though he will open his front shoulder too soon on occasion, which could create arm drag resulting in a late release point. Improvements in this area could improve both his command and fly ball susceptibility.
Pitch Arsenal Breakdown
Marcus Stroman features an electric four seam fastball, generating exceptional arm speed despite his small stature. The pitch sits in the range of 92 to 95 miles per hour, and, according to Perfect Game, has even touched 100 mph while in the bullpen. While the velocity has been consistent, even late into games, his arm angle and command of the pitch haven’t always been. When Stroman fails to get on top of the fastball, it has a tendency to flatten out towards the top of the zone, becoming very hittable. If the fastball is working, the right hander is pounding down with explosive life and racking up swings and misses. The consensus among prospect evaluators is that Stroman’s four-seamer is already at least a plus offering, and with continued refinements to his command, it could settle in as a plus-plus caliber pitch.
Over the offseason, Baseball America named Stroman’s slider as the best in the organization, and this past spring the Baseball Prospectus staff labeled it one of the best in all of minor league baseball. Nasty, powerful, dynamite -– these are the adjectives that expert prospect evaluators use to describe his breaking ball, and for good reason. Stroman releases the pitch in the low-to-mid 80’s, with his arm slot allowing for two planes of movement. In addition to benefiting his fastball velocity, Stroman’s remarkable arm speed allows him to produce an extremely tight spin rotation on the pitch, resulting in stellar depth as the slider dives down and away from right handed batters. He sets it up with his fastball well, and it’s arguably his best offering overall, receiving similar grades to that of his heater. Check out the swinging strike-three (to a lefty!) in the video above around the 6:35 mark –- the break is so sharp that the batters’ mechanics completely fall apart as he flails at the back foot slider.
Almost splitting the difference between his four seam fastball and slider is Stroman’s cut fastball. He throws the cutter in the range of 87 to 90 miles per hour, and unlike his slider, the movement is predominantly horizontal. As Jason Parks writes, the pitch slices, moving in on the hands of left handed batters, and sharp away from right handers. Stroman has a consistent release point with that of his fastball and slider, making the three offerings difficult to distinguish. The cutter is an average pitch presently, but has graded out as potentially plus caliber for the future.
The changeup is Stroman’s fourth pitch, and is the most recent addition to his arsenal. He rarely threw it while working primarily as Duke’s closer in 2010 and 2011, but utilized it with more regularity in his junior season, a trend he’s carried over into professional ball; particularly this year as a starter. He’ll throw the change in the 82-85 mph range, but entering the season the pitch was classified as a work in progress as he had a tendency to release it with a bit too much firmness, reducing the downward fade. The development of the changeup is of utmost importance if Stroman is to settle into a major league rotation, as he’ll need it to keep tough lefties off balance when they’re seeing him three times in a game. He’s made the offspeed pitch a point of emphasis, and early returns have been encouraging; in 189 plate appearances against Stroman this season, Eastern League southpaws have hit just .178/.231/.287. Then there’s this:
With two pitches (fastball, slider) presently grading as at least plus, two others (cutter, changeup) with solid-average futures, and potentially average-or-better control and command, Marcus Stroman has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. Because of his polish and devastating 1-2 punch, he has the floor of a setup man. The most likely outcome may lie somewhere in between, as a solid fourth starter or high-end closer.
2013 Outlook, Risk, and ETA
Entering the season I had expectations that Stroman would be utilized out of the bullpen, but the organization went a different route, instead having the right hander work exclusively in the starting rotation. It has paid dividends, because as I mentioned above, he’s been dynamite this summer. Between college and affiliated ball, Stroman pitched over 117 innings in 2012, so he should be more than capable of pushing the 150 threshold this season. With that in mind, I fully expect him to continue working on his fastball command and changeup with New Hampshire until the calendar flips to September, at which point he should receive his long awaited major league call up. The five or six starts he gets in Toronto will be invaluable for Alex Anthopoulos in preparing for 2014, as if Stroman can keep his fly balls headed towards Colby Rasmus’ glove and not the old Windows restaurant, the general manager may have one fewer leak in the rotation to plug.