Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
I’ve been looking forward to this next profile for some time now. We have finally cracked into the top two and I’m sure at least a few of you were wondering how we would end up ranking the Toronto Blue Jays top two prospects, right-handed pitchers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
Well, now you know. Stroman checks in at #2, which is mostly because none of us had the cojones to dethrone Sanchez as the Blue Jays #1 prospect. We’ve caught a glimpse of both players on the mound this year in spring training, with Stroman in the conversation for a roster spot while Sanchez is just getting his feet wet with his first taste of big league camp.
The future looks bright for both players. Stroman should graduate from the top prospect list year, which will likely leave Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna, and Alberto Tirado battling for the title of the Blue Jays’ second best pitching prospect.
Name: Marcus Stroman
Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 5/1/1991 (22)
Acquired: First round of the 2012 MLB Draft ($1,800,000 USD)
High School: Patchogue-Medford HS (Medford, NY)
College: Duke University
Height/Weight: 5’9″/185 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
- Pre-2014: Rated #55 Prospect by Baseball America
- Pre-2014: Rated #27 Prospect by Baseball Prospectus
- Pre-2014: Rated #55 Prospect by MLB.com
- Ranked Blue Jays #1 Prospect by Baseball Prospectus
- Ranked Blue Jays #2 Prospect by Baseball America
- Ranked Blue Jays #2 Prospect by FanGraphs
- Ranked #10 Prospect in 2013 Eastern League by Baseball America
- Named to 2013 Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game
- MiLB.com Organizational All-Star 2013 – Right-handed starting pitcher – Toronto Blue Jays
Stats and Analysis:
Stroman was suspended for the first 42 games of the 2013 season but was allowed to pitch with the Blue Jays in spring training last year and quickly hit the ground when he returned to Double-A New Hampshire.
His prospect stock soared as he sliced through the Eastern League in 2013. Other than a small hiccup against the Portland Sea Dogs early in the year, Stroman made 20 rather breathtaking starts at Double-A, which had him pushing for a call-up to the Blue Jays by the end of last season.
He was a strikeout machine and had 129 K’s for New Hampshire in 111.2 innings with only 27 walks, good for a 4.78 SO/BB rate. You would expect his FIP to be better than 3.21 but he did give up one home run in every nine innings pitched, which isn’t a great rate for the minors.
According to MiLB.com, he held opposing batters to a .234 average (FanGraphs has .231) with a normalized BABIP of .300. Baseball Prospectus tabbed his ground ball rate as 45% with New Hampshire but it was shown as 42.5% on the Blue Jays’ spring training broadcast. Regardless, we are splitting hairs about the number but despite how Jerry describes him, Marcus is not yet a true ground ball pitcher.
Stroman did have some funky splits in 2013 – lefties batted .171/.225/.273 while righties were much better at .284/.329/.470. Right-handed batters did have a higher BABIP on their side (.376 to .214) but it’s still a bit strange to me. It could just be an anomaly since in 2012 he had more typical splits (.188/.259/.271 vs RHB and .280/.379/.400). He was slightly better out of the windup than the stretch and had an OPS of .626 with the bases empty compared to .734 with runners on.
After he wasn’t called up to the Show in September, Stroman was sent to the Arizona Fall League and pitched out of the bullpen for the Salt River Rafters. In 11.2 innings, he struck out 13 batters with only three walks and in the notoriously hitter-friendly AFL kept the ball in the yard, which made for a very nice 1.92 FIP. Opponents only batted .186 against him and his GO/AO rate was solid at 1.20.
Stroman has a very strong lower body and uses a bit of a drop and drive delivery, which gives him an explosive burst towards the plate. His delivery is smooth and fluid while his arm action is electric, which helps add deception when working off the fastball.
He has excellent mechanics in general and takes a big stride towards the plate with a late hip rotation and not much spine tilt, which is close to ideal. His great extension allows him to release the ball closer to home plate, which gives hitters less time to react.
The only knock on Stroman has been well documented – his height. Standing at a shade under 5’9, he’s not able to naturally create a downward plane that a taller pitcher would. This makes his pitches slightly flat and easier to hit but he does a very good job staying on top of the ball by working down in the zone. His loose arm will also cause him to lose his arm slot at times.
Pitch Arsenal Breakdown
Stroman technically throws five different pitches but it’s uncertain how many he will carry over to the major league level.
His fastball works in the low-to-mid 90s, usually 92-94 MPH according to many scouting reports. He once touched 100 MPH in high school but now when he ramps up the heater, it’s more in the 96-97 MPH range. Out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League, he was throwing 93-96. His fastball has good arm side run and at 22 he already has fairly strong command of the pitch.
As evidenced by the video above, Stroman’s slider is a wipeout pitch and probably his best offering. It disappears on right-handed batters, who much like Adam Jones above, often get left looking foolish when he executes. He throws it in the mid-80s with late break and sharp, downward tilt.
Stroman also throws a cutter, which has earned early rave reviews from many scouts, evalutors and game watchers. He was throwing it 89-91 earlier in 2013 but was up to 91-93 for the most part in the AFL. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus calls it a “plus-plus” pitch and Stroman is known to command the cutter on both sides of the plate.
He made big strides with his changeup in 2013 and his success with the pitch will likely determine how successful he becomes as a starter at the MLB level. Reviews are a bit all over the place but most agree that it flashes plus with good fade. His arm action makes the pitch deceptive but like most young players he’s still gaining feel for the pitch. That being said, many people see it as a potential weapon for him in the future.
Stroman also throws a curveball but I have a feeling, since his slider and cutter are already better, he ends up scrapping it. It’s basically a slower, loopier version of his slider with 10-4 break that he doesn’t command as well. As a solid-average pitch, it might end up being more of a weapon than I expect, but with four other potential plus offerings his arsenal should already be set.
Stroman’s makeup is also top notch. He’s a competitor on the mound and isn’t shy about challenging hitters. Good pitchability makes his premium stuff play up even more and he is known for keeping opponents on their toes with a creative gameplan.
Risk, Outlook and ETA
As most of you I would assume already know, Marcus Stroman is pretty much good to go for the Toronto Blue Jays. He turned several heads early in spring training but has since cooled off a bit and it’s looking more and more like he will start the 2014 season in Buffalo. He was supposed to get a fair shot at making the team after Blue Jays’ skipper John Gibbons stated “he would take the best team north” but it’s clear Stroman is working against a much higher standard than his out of options counterparts.
I will save my rant about Stroman still being one of the Blue Jays five best starters for another day. There’s not denying his arm but he does still look a tad green so there’s no harm in giving him a couple of months in Triple-A to iron out the kinks. There’s also service time concerns the Blue Jays are quietly dealing with. If the passivity of this off-season is any indication, the Jays will keep him in the minors just long enough to start his arbitration clock a year later. Unless the rest of the rotation falls apart beforehand, expect to see him in Toronto by mid-to-late June.
It seems a bit funny to think about now, but less than a year ago many people were still tagging Stroman with the “reliever” tag, which came more from his height than ability. The track record for short starting pitchers isn’t great but Stroman should be able to hold up as a starter for at least a few years, while his stuff is still at it’s best. Once his arm inevitably starts to deteriorate it will be tough but, until that time comes, he’s a potential number two starter. Worst case scenario, he’s probably an elite reliever or back-end starting pitcher.