As the boys in blue assemble in sunny Dunedin, Fla., their No. 3 prospect, right-hander Marcus Stroman, is well-aware of the bar that has been set for him in 2014.
The 22-year old, who starts each day with a “Good Morning” tweet, along with numerous inspirational quotes, to to his 12,5oo followers, radiates a contagious young confidence that his breakout into the big leagues is well within his grasp.
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Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons suggested Stroman could break camp with the team this season, cautioning though, it would be a long shot. However, since the skipper made this prediction, there remains a standstill when it comes to acquiring Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, so the idea of Stroman becoming a legitimate candidate to fill a vacant hole is not unlikely.
Coming out of Duke University, Stroman was a first-round draft pick in 2012 and considered the most major-league-ready pitcher by many experts that year. At the time, his height (5 foot 9) seemed to indicate he was headed for a successful career in the bullpen with a job as a closer eventually waiting in the wings. Yet his aggressive approach, athleticism and command of his fastball and cutter, along with the development of an effective slider, now seem to pave the way to a starting-rotation spot.
The beginning of Stroman’s career was disrupted by a 50-game suspension in 2012, carrying over to into 2013, when a failed test showed the presence of a banned substance. Stroman explained he unknowingly took the substance as part of an over-the-counter supplement. After his time was served, he quickly moved past the setback by striking out 129 in 111 2/3 innings in 20 starts with the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. He continued to turn heads by dominating hitters in the Arizona Fall League, appearing in nine games and striking out 13 with only three walks in 11 2/3 innings.
In early January, Stroman was invited to Toronto to take part in a rookie-development camp at the Rogers Centre, along with fellow top prospects, and his arrival was met with much fanfare.
“It’s fun to see the excitement in people,” he said. “The fans are excited just to have me in the city. It’s something that I’m humble and blessed to be in a position to have.”
He also had the opportunity to get accustomed to a frenzy of media, which flocked to him as he spoke about doing his best to remain patient while “this year, this year, this year” pulses in the back of his mind.
“I honestly can’t even explain how excited I am because it has been at the forefront of everything I’ve been doing this offseason,” he told reporters.
Stroman remained open-minded about how his success story will play out when he finally steps onto the mound in Toronto. If Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos can fill a hole in the rotation by either adding a new arm to the mix or shuffling starters who have taken on the role before, Stroman is far from deterred.
“I honestly have no preference. I’m starting to like starting better because I’m recently doing it and getting pretty accustomed to it, and using my entire repertoire is fun in a game rather than coming in and being predominately two pitchers. But I still have that bulldog mentality to come in late in games and shut it down, so whatever the Blue Jays need, I would be more than willing to do.”