Nearly two years ago, the hot topic in Toronto was who their top pitching prospect was, Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez. Yesterday, one of those two pitchers dominated the Orioles for seven innings to clinch Toronto's first division title in over two decades. This article originally ran on December 9, 2013.
The subjective nature of prospect prognostication is equal parts fascination and frustration, as the prejudices and partialities of the evaluation process can limit what we see and how we go about compartmentalizing that information. I’m a registered bullpen box offender; a recidivist when it comes to placing radically short arms, radically tall arms, slim and slender arms, and most arms of Dominican provenance into a future bullpen role before the developmental process has played out. I recognize that this particular bias is often incongruent to the nature of the process itself, and it paints me as a hypocrite when I preach against binary logic and then participate in such black and white developmental tropes. I’m working on it.
Perhaps my newfound developmental liberalism pushed me toward Marcus Stroman as the top prospect in the Jays system, or perhaps he’s just the best candidate for the spot, regardless of his ultimate role. Outside of a few arms, the historical record isn’t littered with sub 5’10’’ righty starters that found sustainable success at the major-league level, and that fact alone could give even the most strident supporters a valid reason to question Stroman’s long-term future in a rotation. But I was eventually persuaded to believe the diminutive arm was not only a starter but a superior prospect, one with an upside similar to Aaron Sanchez, with a more mature arsenal, better all-around feel, and a low risk/high floor if the rotation projection failed to actualize. I feel confident in the outcome of the list, but it took a healthy debate and opinions from all sides to carve out the conclusion. This is how the sausage is made.
Jason Parks: This is going to be a fun system to debate, especially Stroman vs Sanchez for the top spot. I think Stroman has a very good case. I'm not sure which way I'm leaning yet, but I have several reports that help make the case for his spot at the top.
Josh Herzenberg: I agree on Stroman > Sanchez. I see a similar ceiling in both of them, but Stroman has a higher floor. I don't buy into the height stuff…he can pitch.
Steffan Segui: I'll take Sanchez over Stroman. Sanchez easier delivery with obvious more ideal size. I feel like a lot of Stroman’s deception and stuff comes from that uptempo attacking delivery and I don't think it's sustainable as a starter over multiple big-league seasons, no matter how good an athlete he is. Stroman could/should be the Jays’ setup guy or closer now but long term I'll take Sanchez.
Nick Faleris: First, I very much like Stroman up top and Norris at #4. I think Stroman is closer to fully baked, and the ability to actualize his stuff is there – with Sanchez I feel like I'm constantly teased with "This might be really great when it clicks and he's spotting and consistently executing the curve." I think Stroman has the tools to start, but ultimately it comes down to how he executes once at the MLB level. Gray showed the blueprint — command down, work east/west, change eye level with plus to plus-plus power curve. Stroman doesn't get the same drop on his breaker, but there's tilt and it disappears. I think it's enough to keep big leaguers honest so long as he can throw for strikes (and he has when I've seen him).”
Jeff Moore: Count me in on the Stroman campaign. I know Sanchez has the ideal starter kit to be a top guy but how much is his control really going to improve? It should get better but how much? Stroman has the package now. If he was 6'3" it would be no contest. It's not like it takes some big max-effort delivery for him to get his velo either. The whole thing is relatively smooth. I love the change and I think it really works with the ultra-fast arm to create extra deception. Plus he rocks a single-digit number on the mound. That's pitcher #sparkle.
The height doesn't bother me one bit. Dude is an athlete and I like Nick's Sonny Gray mention as an example of a possible trend where teams give their undersized starters a chance to stick rather than just moving them to the pen.”
Chris King: Don't think we can go wrong at the top with either Sanchez or Stroman. Every time I saw Sanchez he nibbled until he faced another stud. He seems to ramp it up when facing better competition. The sequence I saw when he faced Buxton in the FSL was downright filthy. I haven't seen Stroman nearly as much so I trust you guys on this one, but I'd give a slight edge to Sanchez.
Chris Mellen: I lean Sanchez over Stroman at the top. Over the long haul, I think Stroman ends up in the bullpen. He may start early in his career, and have stretches of success, but the overall package seems like it is going to work much better in that setting. Sanchez isn't quite as polished right now, but in the long- run I think he ends up the better overall major leaguer. And, the gap doesn't seem that wide. Sanchez could very well reach the bigs this coming season.
Jason Parks: I’ve been texting my sources all weekend asking the Stroman vs Sanchez question. It's split. I'm on the Stroman as a starter bandwagon, and after studying his mechanics and getting feedback from scouts and former players, I feel pretty good about putting a starter label on him long term. As for Sanchez, everybody loves the arm action, with some throwing 80 grades on it. The command is a concern for some, as is the ballsack attribute; a few sources referred to him as soft. I'm leaning toward ranking Stroman higher on the list despite Sanchez's ultimate ceiling. I think Stroman is a safer pick with at least comparable upside, and I've never heard a negative comment about Stroman's fortitude on the mound. As silly as it might sound, I really value that characteristic in a pitcher. I want to see a strong mentality on the mound, somebody who likes to bring the game to the hitters and not the other way around. I'm not suggesting Sanchez is a passive arm; rather, the reports on Stroman's approach are just better at this point in time. I'll stand strongly by this decision.