Relievers are a fickle species; every year, many relievers come out of nowhere to make an impact at the major-league level. There doesn’t seem to be a clear formula for short-term success as a big-league reliever, but there are combinations that can be lethal in short doses, and right now the minor leagues house multiple arms that could impact a game near you in 2013. Today, we’ll look at three of them.
Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
“He’s really tough not to like,” one scout said. Stroman isn’t tall, checking in at 5-foot-9, but he is big, with 185 pounds of muscle on his frame. He has one of the fastest arms in the minors, and he can pump his fastball into the upper 90s, complimenting it with a plus slider and cutter. He’s active and eccentric on the mound.
Stroman was used as a starter at Duke, but the Blue Jays used him exclusively as a reliever after they nabbed him with the 22nd overall pick in last June’s draft. There has never been a successful 5’9” starter in the major leagues, so Stroman as a starter would be unprecedented. He also struggled to hold his velocity as a starter, and so the move makes sense. Personally, I look at a guy with three weapons and a feel for pitching, which would have been enough for me to give him a chance as a starter before relegating him to a relief role, but Toronto has taken the road that most would have given Stroman’s issues.
People know that Stroman tested positive for a banned substance, but in 2013 he should provide additional reasons to remember his name. He’s going to be an impact, late-inning reliever.
Jake Diekman has a sexy package of tools, but here’s my favorite fact about him: he was a 30th round pick out of Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kansas. (Sorry, alliteraphobes. Next time, I’ll bold my alliteration so you skip it over.) I don’t know if alliteraphobia is actually a thing or not, but alliteration is only one reason to fear Diekman. He isn’t perfect, but he misses a ton of bats and also has what it takes to be an impact, late-inning reliever.
Mark Montgomery, New York Yankees
An 11th rounder in 2011, Montgomery could look like a steal 11 years from now. Unlike Diekman and Stroman, Montgomery’s name doesn’t end with “man,” and he lacks elite fastball velocity. Scouts have seen Montgomery sit in the 90-93 range with movement, but it isn’t a bread and butter pitch.
Fortunately, Montgomery has one of the most contact-defying pitches in the minor leagues. “That slider is vicious,” said one scout. “All kinds of two-plane break. Nasty.” The same scout noted, however, that Montgomery’s reliability on the pitch could get the 22-year-old in trouble at times. It has the makings of a 7 pitch, but there’s still room for refinement in the approach.
Stroman, Diekman, and Montgomery are all going to miss big-league bats. Their roles at the major-league level will have to be earned, but the present tools are good enough to shut down hitters, and each arm figures to get a long look in 2013.