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Marcus Stroman Passes Eye Test in Professional Debut

Toronto Blue Jays’ first-round pick Marcus Stroman made his debut for the short-season A-ball Vancouver Canadians on Thursday. He pitched two-thirds of an inning, surrendering 3 runs, 2 of them earned, on 3 hits and a walk. Stroman failed to strike out a batter in his brief appearance.

The outing left him with an ERA of 27.00, and if there were ever a time to note the rules of small sample size, that time is now. Stroman didn’t get results on Thursday, but he looked just as the Blue Jays anticipated when they selected him 22nd overall in last month’s MLB Draft.

Both of the outs that Stroman recorded were on the ground, and neither was particularly well hit. In fact, Stroman didn’t really allow any well-hit balls despite the 3 runs he allowed to cross the plate.

The first batter that Stroman faced was jammed by an outstanding fastball on the first pitch, grounding out to third base. The pitch started over the middle of the plate but darted inward on the right-handed batter at the last moment.

He fell behind the second batter, throwing a first pitch slider, which, despite showing outstanding bite, landed a few inches outside. He followed that up with another fastball outside, and then a fastball that caught the outer half of the plate. His next pitch, a fastball, jammed the batter who managed to flare the ball into very shallow right field, barely over the head of first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor.

Stroman worked the count 0-2 on the third batter of the inning. On what appeared to be strike 3, the runner at first took off and the catcher stepped to the side in order to throw to second. Unfortunately, the catcher’s motion made the pitch appear to be further outside than it really was, costing Stroman the strikeout. On the next pitch, Stroman induced a weak groundout to first that moved the runner over to third. That groundout was the last out that Stroman was able to record.

And so the inning began to unravel. Stroman issued a 4-pitch walk to ex-ACC rival Stephen Bruno. He appeared to be working around the second baseman Bruno, who is batting .315/.379/.455 on the season.

After working ahead 1-2 to the fifth batter of the inning, Stroman left a fastball a bit high in the zone allowing the left-handed batter to go with its arm-side movement and lightly lift the ball into left field.

The final batter to whom Stroman was allowed to pitch grounded to the right of the shortstop. A major league shortstop would have had a good chance at making the play, but unfortunately, Jason Leblebijian is not a major league shortstop and did not have the range to make the backhanded stab, allowing the ball to glance off his glove and into left field. In came two more runs, and the debut outing for Stroman came to an abrupt end.

Stroman’s fastball sat around 95 MPH with outstanding late life. His slider was the plus pitch that we envisioned on draft night, working with a tight spin and demonstrating late, sharp bite. The fastball/slider combination alone will make Stroman an excellent high-leverage option out of the bullpen. The fastball darts arm-side at the last moment and induces weak contact while the slider is a major league swing-and-miss pitch. If he can continue to work on the cut fastball that he has implemented recently, the Blue Jays will be forced to give Stroman a shot at starting.

Marcus Stroman deserved a better fate in his professional debut. Fortunately, the eye test made it obvious enough that Stroman will not endure many more rough appearances. He is far too good, and the BABIP gods should show him mercy as the season progresses.

If Stroman can continue to build on his debut performance, he could be knocking on the door for a September call-up should the Toronto Blue Jays need some extra strength for a playoff push.

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Charles Davis is a baseball writer for RantSports.com with a specific focus on the Toronto Blue Jays, their farm system, and prospects league-wide. Read his articles here and follow him on Twitter @CPDavis90.