Marcus Stroman Called Up For Exhibition Series

BY CHRIS TOMAN

TORONTO – Fresh off the first Grapefruit League game of his career and sitting in his Florida spring training home with housemates Aaron Sanchez and Jesse Hernandez, right-hander Marcus Stroman received what he said was one of the best phone calls of his life.

The call was from Blue Jays director of minor league operations Charlie Wilson, who told the 21-year-old Stroman to pack his bags for Philadelphia, where he'll join the Blue Jays and participate in a series of exhibition games this upcoming weekend before Toronto opens its season at home against Cleveland on April 2.

Stroman said he received the call moments after saying goodbye to family members who came to see him pitch in Dunedin on Tuesday.

“[Wilson] called me and let me know the deal that the team wanted me to go with them to Philadelphia, which will be awesome,” said Stroman, the 22nd overall pick out of Duke University in the 2012 first-year player draft.

“It will be an awesome experience pitching in Citizens Bank Park. I’m ecstatic.”

After his conversation with Wilson, Stroman called his family and told them to come back to his place so he could break the news to them in person.

“They are the best. They come down, give me all their time and effort. It’s awesome,” said the 5-9 hurler.

He then told Sanchez, who is widely considered the Blue Jays’ top prospect.

“He's one of my best friends. It’s almost like he’s part of my family,” Stroman said. “He was ecstatic to hear the news. We are always rooting for each other.”

Once the Blue Jays are done in Philadelphia, Stroman will head back south to Dunedin, where he will pitch in extended spring training while serving the remaining 42 games of a 50-game suspension he was levied with in August after testing positive for a banned stimulant.

The plan, according to Stroman, is to be stretched out as a starter before a likely assignment to Double-A New Hampshire, where he made eight appearances last season.

Stroman, who said he has been preparing as a starter on a five-day schedule in Dunedin, was a member of Duke’s rotation but pitched as a reliever at two minor league levels in 2012 and has previous experience closing in the Cape Cod League and for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.

While Stroman said he has no preference when it comes to starting or pitching out of the bullpen, it's interesting that the Blue Jays haven't ditched the idea of using him as a starter. The only preference he has is to “to make it to the big-league team by the end of the year."

“They are going to extend my innings while I’m down here,” said Stroman, who struck out 23 batters in 19 1/3 innings in the minors last year. “I might get out and start some games, at least for the first couple months, I believe. I think I would start down here in Dunedin and if I have success, they said I would be back in New Hampshire. But I'm not sure if I'll be in a starting or relieving role."

Part of what could make him stick as a starter is that he’s already working with a four-pitch mix and plans to keep it that way – even if he’s relegated to the bullpen. Most relievers have a two-pitch arsenal and occasionally turn to a third offering, but Stroman wants to hold on to a repertoire that includes a mid-90s fastball, curveball, changeup and what he described as a hybrid between a slider and cutter.

“I have really been working on my changeup, it has been a key emphasis since I have been down here,” Stroman said. “That’s a huge pitch for me, especially if I’m going to be starting games.

“Even if I’m relieving, I try to use all four pitches. I’ll try to definitely mix in four because it gives me two more weapons, I feel.”



Sounding confident but not cocky, Stroman said he believes he has a shot to get called up to the majors this season, even on a loaded Blue Jays squad.

“I definitely think at some point this year I will have an opportunity to get up to Toronto. I think I have the stuff – it is just a matter of putting innings together and dominating at the lower levels,” he said.

He had a chance to experience what the highest level has to offer in his spring training debut Monday. This weekend in Philadelphia, he’ll likely get another taste. But then he’s back to Dunedin, where he will serve out the suspension that he said he once struggled to come to grips with but has now used as a source of motivation.

“At first, honestly, it was probably one of the hardest things I have had to deal with – the first two weeks were bad,” Stroman said. “I didn’t think about it afterward, it wasn’t even in my head heading into this season.

“[The suspension] fueled me and probably motivated me even more because you are going to have people that doubt you even more. It just made me want to get to that level even more than I already did.”

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