To be a successful major league starter, a pitcher needs three things:
- Stuff: the ability to throw pitches that are good enough that major league hitters cannot hit them. It sounds simple, but most humans on the planet cannot do this.
- Command: the ability to throw these pitches where you want them to go. The minor leagues are full of pitchers who throw hard and have awesome breaking stuff, but don’t have a clue where the ball is going to go when it leaves their hand.
- Durability: the knack of staying healthy, despite performing a body-damaging activity at regular intervals. (And make no mistake: pitching at the major-league level is damaging.)
Marcus Stroman clearly has the stuff to be a big leaguer. A Fangraphs article suggests that he has:
- A sinker like that of Roy Halladay
- A four-seam fastball like that of Johnny Cueto
- A curveball like that of Jose Hernandez
- A cut fastball like that of Josh Beckett
- A slider like that of Gerrit Cole
That’s five excellent or at least very good pitches. And Stroman clearly has command: in 130 major-league innings, he gave up only 28 walks. He allowed seven home runs, which isn’t too many. So the only question left is durability: can he do this for 200+ innings?
Many old-school scouts would say no, because Stroman isn’t very tall: he’s only 5’9″. Scouts tend to prefer that pitchers, especially right-handed pitchers, be about 6’2″ to 6’4″. Shorter players can’t possibly stand up to this kind of workload. This is how Stroman fell to the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2012 draft, despite his obvious skills.
With his success so far, Stroman has a chance of changing the conventional scouting wisdom on the size of pitching prospects. If he succeeds, scouts will start considering shorter pitchers. If he gets injured, scouts will cackle triumphantly, and will return to scouting larger young men. There are probably thousands of young undersized pitching prospects that are rooting for him to make good.
And he might very well make good. There appears to be no limit to his ceiling. A Cy Young Award is a very real possibility if he achieves his full potential. The Jays don’t need to spend a lot of money to purchase an ace starter – they might already have one.