Last weekend, the Blue Jays called up consensus top-100 prospect Marcus Stroman, adding him to their bullpen in a middle relief role. It would be silly to expect him to stay in the bullpen for long, as Toronto’s rotation is just too thin and shallow for Stroman to pitch in relief long-term.
Brandon Morrow is already hurt (again), and also hadn’t yet been able to improve on last year’s 5.63 earned run average. Dustin McGowan, having thrown 30 innings so far this season, has already tossed more frames in the majors than he did in any given year from 2009-2013, and hasn’t been particularly good himself (4.80 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 5.41 xFIP).
J.A. Happ, who was recently moved from the bullpen into the fifth starter’s role, has issued nine walks while striking out six so far this season, and even without that bit of small-sample ugliness, he’s still not the type of guy who’s putting up a significant roadblock in front of a talented prospect. In short, it’s hard to imagine a scenario that doesn’t end with Stroman in the rotation sooner rather than later.
Selected by the Jays 22nd overall in the 2012 draft, Stroman throws five pitches, the best of which is a completely ridiculous wipeout slider — a true out pitch with plus-plus potential. He also throws a four-seamer that sits 93-96 mph, a cutter with tremendous late bite at 93 mph, along with a change-up and curveball that are both more than show-me pitches.
The following video of his 10-strikeout performance against Louisville should give you a pretty good feel for how electric the 23-year-old’s stuff is:
Granted, Louisville’s lineup is downright embarrassing, as their team slash line sits at .233/.303/.350 for the season, but Stroman’s stuff makes these guys look even worse. Look at Thomas Neal after he goes down swinging on the slider. He looks defeated, distraught — this is a man forced into a full-on existential crisis because of this one pitch. (Side note: For those of you in the Buffalo area, PLENTY OF GOOD SEATS STILL AVAILABLE at Bisons games!)
This all boils down to the fact that top-50 prospects with five-pitch arsenals rarely linger in the shadows of the world’s J.A. Happs and Dustin McGowans for long. Hell, if Stroman’s still coming out of the ‘pen two weeks from now, I’ll be quite surprised.
Furthermore, I’ve kind of glossed over how locked in Stroman is right now. Last year, after serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for methylhexaneamine (which Wikipedia tells me is some sort of sketchy semi-kinda-legal “energy-boosting dietary supplement”), Stroman made 20 starts in Double-A, resulting in a 3.30 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 10.40 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9.
This year has been even better, as Stroman completely annihilated Triple-A lineups through his five starts, with a 1.69 ERA, 1.59 FIP, 12.15 K/9 and 2.36 BB/9. Sure, it’s a small sample, but he’s clearly at the top of his game at the moment. That’s part of why I see the Jays sticking him in the rotation in the very near-future.
The major knock on Stroman as a prospect is that he is just 5’9″, but his quick, compact delivery still allows him to bring the heat. There are concerns about his ability to log 200+ innings on a yearly basis, but there’s no reason to put the “future reliever” label on a prospect with a ceiling as high as Stroman’s until he proves he can’t handle the load.
The next time either Happ or McGowan has a rough outing, Stroman’s probably going to get his shot, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t take the job and run with it. Nothing against Happ or McGowan, but Rob Ford has more job security in Toronto than they do. Stroman’s ceiling is so high that he’s pretty clearly a better option, both right now and in the future.
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Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.