After being selected by the Washington Nationals in the 18th round of 2009 draft out of high school, Stroman opted to go college at Duke University, where he started as a two-way player and starred on the mound. In his freshman season, Stroman started 44 games at second base and hit .265 while making 17 appearances at pitcher, including five starts. He was named ACC Freshman of the Year. Stroman went to the Cape Cod League that summer and was named an all-star after he didn’t allow a run in his first 21 innings.
He continued to play second base as a sophomore, but it was clear that his future would be on the mound as he led the team with 90 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings. Stroman’s 3.27 career ERA at Duke is the second-lowest in school history in the aluminum-bat era (since 1974) and the sixth-lowest of all time. In 2011, he was a member of the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, serving as the team’s closer. Stroman didn’t allow a hit in 8 1/3 innings over seven scoreless appearances. He struck out 17 of the 27 batters he faced and walked one. The next year he was named to the All-ACC First Team as he led all NCAA pitchers in strikeouts with 136 in 98 innings.
The Toronto Blue Jays picked him 22nd overall in the 2012 draft, making him Duke’s first first-round pick. Stroman signed quickly for $1.8 million and had already reached Double-A working as a reliever just months after signing when he tested positive for a stimulant and was suspended for 50 games, ending his season and costing him the first month of 2013.
He began 2013 back at Double-A New Hampshire, but this time as a starter. In 20 starts, he had a 3.30 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 129-to-27 K:BB ratio. Stroman went to the Arizona Fall League, where he dazzled with a 0.94 WHIP and 13 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. While there had been some debate about where Stroman’s future would ultimately lie, possibly stemming from his diminutive 5-foot-8 frame, his deep repertoire of pitches would be wasted in the bullpen. Stroman has a starter’s arsenal and once he used it to breeze by the Eastern League in his second pro season, the debate about his future role was over. He entered 2014 as the no. 27 prospect in baseball, based on our rankings.
He took the Stro Show to the majors, initially coming out of the bullpen with five relief appearances and shaky results before joining the rotation. Almost immediately, Stroman became the Blue Jays’ best starter. As a starter, his ERA was 3.29 and he had a 20 percent strikeout clip and 5.5 percent walk rate.
Perhaps most impressive was the way Stroman’s pitch mix evolved as the season went along, as he began heavily featuring his sinker, which has been compared to Roy Halladay’s. He relied on his sinker heavily over the last two months of the season, throwing it 31 percent of the time in August and 44 percent of the time in September, according to Brooks Baseball. As his sinker usage increased, so too did his ground-ball rate, which was 48 percent in the first half but went up to 58 percent over the last two months. Only Dallas Keuchel had a higher ground-ball percentage in 2014.
“I found a sinker, I found a completely new pitch and it did wonders for me,” Stroman said. “I just toyed around with grips. At the All-Star break last year I found that grip and my groundball percentage went way up and it allowed me to go deeper into games. I had never thrown a complete game in my life before the big leagues, before that pitch.”
While Stroman has six pitches he can throw and many of them are comparable to other ace’s offerings, his sinker is in his own estimation his most important pitch. If he continues to pound sinkers once he’s back in the major leagues and those ground -all gains hold, then he’ll have upside beyond his preseason PECOTA projection of 3.35 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, which came along with a projected 48 percent ground-ball pace.
What’s Happened So Far in 2015
Stroman and the Blue Jays were dealt a nearly cataclysmic blow in spring training, when he tore his ACL during a fielding drill where the pitcher pulled up and heard his knee pop. Stroman wasn’t down for long, though, after undergoing knee surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews on March 19th. Still a semester short of graduating from Duke, the 24-year-old took the opportunity to finish his degree at Duke while simultaneously doing two-a-day rehabilitation workouts six times a week on his way to beating the odds and returning to pitch on a professional mound in September. Stroman has also spent a lot of time working on his changeup while rehabbing and says the pitch feels really good. An improved changeup could be another positive to take from the time he’s had off, which has almost been a blessing in disguise.
Stroman took the mound just before 7:05 p.m. at Lansing Cooley Law School Stadium and warmed up to “Miss Me,” a track off Drake’s second album Thank Me Later. He worked especially quickly in the first inning, excitement possibly stemming from the layoff or maybe Drizzy’s “World Series attitude, champagne bottle life” line was still ringing in his ears. He joked after the game that he was pitching like Mark Buehrle in the first inning. In his first professional start in nearly a year, Stroman said his return to the mound felt “natural.” He looked great. Stroman’s fastball sat 93-94 mph in the first inning and the rest of the outing. In total, he went 4 2/3 innings while allowing no hits and one walk while striking out seven. He threw 69 pitches with 44 strikes. He broke off a few hellacious sliders before the night was over and he was simply no match for the Great Lakes Loons, the Dodgers’ Low-A Midwest League affiliate. Stroman seemingly could have pitched all night without allowing a hit.
What to Expect the Rest of 2015
Stroman is set for one more rehab start with Triple-A Buffalo on Monday where he’ll throw 85-90 pitches before he joins the Jays’ active roster. That would line him up for a start in next weekend’s series against the Yankees in the Bronx, where he was originally slated to open the season as the Jays Opening Day starter before he got hurt. While many have questioned Stroman throughout his career for a litany of reasons—including his height, which he likes to remind the doubters hasn’t been an issue with the hashtag #HDMH for Heart Doesn’t Measure Heart—he has no doubt that he’s ready to return to the majors. “I’ve been throwing through this whole process too because I was throwing when I couldn’t walk,” he said. “My arm’s ready and my knee’s ready.”
“I’m more motivated and hungry now than I’ve ever been.”
6ix god help us all.
The Great Beyond
Assuming Stroman makes it back to the majors healthy and in the rotation, the Blue Jays are going to the World Series. I mean, how is a team with David Price, Stroman, and that lineup not going to the World Series? I guess we’ll see. While how Stroman does the rest of this season will be interesting for a number of reasons, his potential future looks about as good as anyone’s. He made the most out of what was almost a lost summer, proving once again that there’s something really special about this diminutive right-hander.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now