Marcus Stroman loves to prove people wrong.
The 22-year-old will tell you that straight up. It’s the way he presents himself to the world. It’s part of his Twitter bio. More than that, it’s part of what makes him successful on the mound.
Stroman will pitch with the proverbial chip on his shoulder this afternoon as the Opening Day starter for the Buffalo Bisons. The Herd kicks off the 2014 season by hosting the Rochester Red Wings at 2:05 at Coca-Cola Field.
For Stroman, a first-round draft choice and highly touted prospect, it’s his first time being the central figure in the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day as a professional baseball player. He starts his second season in professional baseball with the Bisons, but eyes are watching to see when he might get the call for his Major League debut with Toronto.
Not bad for a guy listed at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds who has spent his baseball career being overlooked because of his size.
“I’ve kind of had that mentality my whole life,” Stroman said. “I’m overly confident. I pitch with a huge chip on my shoulder just because I have to continually go out there and prove that … I am that much better than anyone else who’s bigger on a consistent basis.
“Growing up I was always the smallest … what I lack in height I gain in confidence. That’s one thing I’ll never lose is my confidence regardless of my outing. It’s something that I pitch with, and it’s something that allows me to compete at the highest level, I believe.”
Last year Stroman started 20 games for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, a club managed by Gary Allenson who was promoted to Bisons’ manager in the offseason.
With New Hampshire, he went 9-5 with a 3.30 earned run average and 129 strikeouts in 111∏ innings.
A deeper look at his numbers shows a stretch of seven straight quality starts from July 2 to Aug. 6. In six starts in July he held opponents to a .191 batting average while his 55 strikeouts that month were the most in all of baseball.
The potential is there, but there are things that Stroman needs to improve on to have success at the Triple-A level and make the jump to Toronto.
“He’s got a really good arm and his ball has got some late life on it,” Allenson said. “He’s got three to four pretty good pitches, but he pitched up in the zone a little too much last year – thigh-high – and got away with it with the Double-A hitters. Not all of them, but most of them. He’s got to get the ball down around the knees to be a successful big-league pitcher.
“And I think … it’s at the point now where you’ve got to be willing to throw your secondary pitches when you’re behind in the count, not all of the time but some of the time, to get back in the count. That will be a learning process at times. It’s only Marcus’ second full year in professional baseball. He’s very advanced for his age and his experience, but I’m sure he’ll go through some growing pains along the way,” the manager continued.
There were already growing pains this year when he started the season in big league camp with the Blue Jays before being reassigned to Bisons camp on March 18. He knew he would be in Triple A to start the season and took some lumps and lessons from his time with the major leaguers.
“My spring was tough. … I just thought I was trying to do a little too much when I was up there at the big league level,” Stroman said. “It wasn’t necessarily my stuff that wasn’t playing, it was me trying to do too much knowing that I could be there pretty soon and just not being myself out there.”
While he makes his Triple-A debut today, Stroman has some familiarity around him. He played under Allenson last year and backup catcher Jack Murphy is on the Bisons roster after playing with Stroman in New Hampshire.
“Murphy, he’s one of the my favorite catchers I’ve ever thrown to,” Stroman said. “He’s a genius. He went to Princeton. He’s great at reading hitters’ swings, and honestly when he catches me, I don’t shake much because I have faith in him.”
Stroman’s collegiate team is no slouch either. The Medford, N.Y., native earned All-America honors at Duke. His junior season of 2012 he led all NCAA pitchers with 136 strikeouts before becoming the first Blue Devil to be a first-round draft selection.
“My parents didn’t want me to go to a baseball factory, so it was always academics first,” said Stroman, who was a sociology major with a minor in marketing and management. “I’m a semester away from graduating, so hopefully I’ll go back soon and get that diploma.”