Marcus Stroman is a man on a mission. Listed at 5'9"--generously, he will be one of shortest pitchers in the MLB once he gets the call. A closer at Duke, he was drafted 22nd overall by the Blue Jays in 2012. Most evaluators assumed he'd end up at the back-end of a ML bullpen. Since going pro, however, Stroman's done everything in his power to prove he has the necessary ingredients to stick in a major league rotation. Now, two years later, he isn't merely knocking on the big league door, but sprinting at it full-steam-ahead, with a battering ram. His repertoire is deep and he's incredibly polished. The Blue Jays may have clued us in on their intentions when they pushed Stroman's latest start back to today--April 29-- to mirror the schedule of struggling 5th starter Dustin McGowan. In 4 starts --20.2 innings-- Stroman is the owner of a 2.18 ERA and 26/6 K/BB. I watched Stroman's April 21st start vs. the Pawtucket Red Sox, which was informative for multiple reasons (a) the PawSox had both legit prospects and major leaguers in the lineup that night, including Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks (on rehab) and top 50 prospect Garin Cecchini; (b) He didn't have his best stuff, and for both proxy and intrigue it was fun to watch him face a talented lineup without a full bag of tricks.
Still, he was plenty good:
Stroman throws a four-seam fastball that sits in the low to mid 90's (92-96). Against Pawtucket, he hit 99 MPH on the stadium gun--could have been a misreading or an outlier. The pitch is relatively straight, and it flattens out when left up in the zone--his diminutiveness requires he keep it down. He throws a ton of strikes, and locates to either side of the dish. Against the PawSox, Stroman had excellent horizontal command, although he consistently left the fastball in the middle and upper thirds of the zone. It was encouraging to see him hold velocity, as he hit 95 on the pitch below, which was in the 5th inning. He wasn't hit as hard as the 10 hits in the box-score suggest (no homers), but big league hitters tee off on the type of flat cheese he left up in the zone. He attacks hitters aggressively and gets into favorable pitching counts with regularity that allow him to unleash the ghastly slider.
The slider is Stroman's out pitch, and he uses it liberally. In BP's "best tools" series this offseason, the venerable BP prospect staff tabbed Stroman's slider as the second best in the minors, behind only Jonathan Gray. It has two-plane break, and sits in the mid 80's. It's shape is similar to a curveball and given it's hammer-ish break, it reminds of a Jose Fernandez defector or Sonny Gray hook. It breaks extremely late, invoking descriptors like "lethal bite" and "true wipeout". I"m excited to see what path the Canadians pave in nicknaming the dreadful thing.
Like the Slider, Stroman's cutter is marked by its late movement. He throws it in the 91-93 range, keeping hitters off the fastball. In his April 16th start v. Scranton, I saw him bury it in on the hands to lefties for swinging strikes on multiple occasions.
Stroman's Change up is a work in progress-- like most young pitchers. However, it's encouraging that according to scouts it currently flashes plus (B/B+). Since he doesn't throw them in spades, and radar gun readings aren't available on most minor league feeds, it was difficult to pinpoint a good change up; here's one I found on April 16th that went for a single.
Stroman uses his athletic frame to generate a lot of power from his lower half, allowing him to hold his velocity deep into games. He over-rotates at times, trying to get some extra oomph on his pitches-- you see this when he falls off towards first base. It's a compact delivery without a ton of moving parts, and I expect him to have no trouble repeating it in the future, especially given his athleticism and drive. He could have an elite command profile when it's all said and done. He works briskly and fields his position extremely well, which should help his cause on the mound as well. What won't help his cause is pitching in the AL East. As we saw last year with fellow über prospect Kevin Gausman, the AL East can be a rude awakening for a young (or old for that matter) pitcher. Also, Rogers Centre doesn't exactly suppress runs, so a period of adjustment is likely in order-- read: he could have outings where he gives up runs in bunches. Stroman's profile reminds me a lot of Sonny Gray. Like Gray, he's a fierce competitor and makes up in demeanor what he lacks in physical size. His command is likely better than Gray's, but his run environment is going to be brutal. Thus his ERA upside isn't sky high. I see him settling in as starter who strikes out nearly a batter per inning with an excellent WHIP and an ERA in the mid 3.00's, a potential top 20-30 starter at peak.