Prospect Stroman embracing role as underdog
After impressive first full season as pro, righty working out of bullpen in AFL
Don't look at Marcus Stroman's role in the Arizona Fall League as some kind of permanent shift.
The 2012 first-round pick is pitching out of the bullpen for the Salt River Rafters, but he wants everyone to know his future still lies in the rotation.
"I think it's more to monitor my innings," Stroman said of his relief work in the AFL. "They've let me know recently that I'm full go, just a starter now, and I'm happy with it. I feel like I got in a really good routine and I had a good year. I feel I have the repertoire to be a starter, so going forward, I'm going to be a starter."
If Stroman, ranked No. 91 overall on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, sounds a bit insistent, it's for good reason. The 5-foot-9 right-hander has spent most of his life being told he can't do certain things because of his size. But with the chance to boast at least four Major League average or better pitches, he loves the idea of getting the chance to prove everyone wrong at the highest level.
"That's the biggest motivating factor I've had my whole life," said Stroman, who is No. 3 on the Blue Jays' Top 20 Prospects list. "That's what fuels me every time I'm out on the mound, to kind of prove that stereotypes aren't always right, and that despite your height, despite what it may be working against you, you can go and get stuff done as [well] as a stereotypical pitcher."
It's hard to argue with success. Stroman spent the 2013 season, his first full one as a pro, in Double-A. His 3.30 ERA would have placed him fifth in the Eastern League had he thrown enough innings to qualify. He was ninth in strikeouts, had a nifty 1.13 WHIP and held hitters to a .234 batting average against. Even with that success, Stroman sees the need to continue to refine his offspeed stuff, something he knows he'll need to continue to excel.
"I'm definitely going to continue throwing my changeup," Stroman said about his time in Arizona. "I know I'm going to be out of the 'pen, but that's going to be a big emphasis. That's been my huge point that I've been working on all year."
Stroman has also been making up for some lost innings, time he spent serving a 50-game suspension for taking a banned substance in an over-the-counter supplement. An active user of Twitter who loves interacting with fans, he has used the medium to deal with the suspension head on, especially as time has passed.
"When [the news] first came out, that was hard to be on there," Stroman admitted. "I kind of stepped away from Twitter. But I feel like it's out there, it is what it is. I'm not going to run from it. I'm not going to be one to completely shut down Twitter and shut down my interaction with everyone.
"It is what it is, people realize what it was. I'm moving forward from it, I'm completely past it. I used the extended spring training period I had to develop my pitches and I think that kind of propelled me to the season. Looking back at it now, it was an honest mistake and I owned up to it. I'm just looking forward to the future."
Blue Jays pitchers in the AFL
Aaron Sanchez, ranked No. 20 on the Top 100 and No. 1 on the Blue Jays' list, threw just 86 1/3 innings during the 2013 regular season. The young right-hander suffered a shoulder injury in mid-May, forcing him out of action for more than a month. He came back slowly, though he did finish the year by tossing seven shutout innings. In his first two AFL starts making up for some lost time -- as well as serving as preparation for the upper levels of the system -- Sanchez had tossed five innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He had walked one and struck out four.
John Stilson, ranked No. 6 on the Blue Jays' list, is coming off of a solid 2013 season that saw him spend most of the campaign with Triple-A Buffalo. It was his first full year as strictly a reliever, and that transition continued to go well. The Texas A&M product struck out 9.6 per nine innings, posted a 2.17 ERA, picked up five saves and held hitters to a combined .217 average. He gave up five earned runs in his first AFL outing and has been charged with seven earned over 2 1/3 innings in three appearances. He did pick up a save in his one scoreless appearance.
Drew Hutchison continues to make his way back from Tommy John surgery. He returned to competitive pitching in mid-July, pitching at three levels and totaling 35 1/3 innings. The right-hander, who made 11 big league starts in 2012, could get another look at the Toronto rotation next spring, following his AFL stint. Hutchison threw four hitless innings in his second Fall League start and has picked up a total of 6 2/3 innings (two earned runs) over two starts.
Blue Jays hitters in the AFL
When Derrick Chung was at Sacramento State, he didn't start catching until his junior season. After the Blue Jays took him as a senior sign in 2012, he played mostly second base during his pro debut. They moved him back behind the plate last spring and he responded by throwing out 43 percent of would-be basestealers in the Florida State League in 2013. Chung replaced A.J. Jimenez on the AFL roster and is getting the chance to catch better pitching and make up for some lost at-bats (just 244 all year). He went 6-for-14 over his first five Fall League games.
In 2013, third baseman Andy Burns led the organization in RBIs (85) and finished second in hits. He also stole 33 bases while hitting 15 homers, splitting time between the Florida State League and the Eastern League. Could his time in the AFL -- he'd gone 6-for-his-first-23 with Salt River -- serve as a springboard to Toronto in 2014?
Outfielder Kenny Wilson has always had tremendous tools, especially his speed. But he's had some challenges staying healthy, playing in just 48 games in 2011 and only 60 this past season. In between, Wilson had a terrific 2012, with 55 steals and an improved ability to get on base. He did reach Double-A for the first time in 2013, and his hot start in Arizona -- he kicked things off with a five-game hitting streak that saw him go 11-for-23 before cooling off a bit -- could allow him to be ready for the upper levels in 2014.