The story of Marcus Stroman is one of extremes: first round pick due to a deep arsenal of plus stuff, advanced command and consistent high-end performance despite being 5’9, 185 pounds. Those are all clear positives except for the stature, but the stature alone has most scouts projecting Stroman as a reliever. I got a quick look at Stroman in instructs and I think there’s value in promoting him quickly as a reliever, but I don’t see a reason why he shouldn’t be given a chance to start sometime in the next few years.
Stroman sat 93-95 mph with heavy two-seam life, effectively spotting it under the hands of right-handed hitters. He backed it up with a hard slurve at 80-84 mph with three-quarters tilt and at the high end of that range; it looked like a true plus slider with depth and late bite. Stroman also worked in a hard, 88-90 mph cutter that is plus at its best due to its length, enough to give fits to hitters in either batter’s box. He also threw one changeup at 81 mph that turned over with fade and depth, flashing above average potential and there may be more in the tank.
So, we’ve got a small righty that flashed four 55 or 60 pitches (on the 20-80 scale) in a relief stint, but he’s got to sell out with a high-effort delivery to generate that kind of stuff, right? Surprisingly, no; Stroman has a balanced and controlled delivery along with good athleticism and general feel that allows him to put the ball where he wants to. It isn’t pinpoint or infallible command, but you can pretty easily project it to above-average to where the question is what Stroman has proven he can’t do well, as the size concerns are projecting and adjusting for possible future problems.
Stroman has a clean, quick arm and an efficient delivery that wastes little energy in part because he keeps his torso perpendicular to the mound. While there is a little bit of torque to help Stroman deliver velocity, many smaller pitchers with plus fastballs get them with gimmicky east-west motion, a heel-landing or high-effort, high-torque deliveries that often do more harm than good. Stroman pitches into a solid front side, decelerates his arm well, and pitches athletically on the balls of his feet, on a direct line to the plate. There isn’t a ton of deception to a delivery this clean and natural, but big stuff from a quick arm from a small frame can be deceptive enough on it’s own and Stroman has no problem coming after hitters.
There are legitimate concerns about Stroman’s plane, as a clean delivery can’t fix that. He stays on top of the ball and his landing leg well, sinks his fastball and tends to err down in the zone so he may not even have the fly ball tendency that many smaller pitchers have due to their below average plane. That said, his average strike will stay in the zone longer than a taller pitcher’s average strike and that isn’t something to disregard. Stroman also hasn’t broken down or shown he’s worse for wear in a starting role, but it’s still early in his career and anything is possible.
Stroman’s ultimate upside is a number two starter, as a guy with four pitches and command that all grade 55 or better, with a couple 60’s or 65’s. If his stuff takes a mysterious step backward and/or he has trouble holding up over a number of innings, then conventional wisdom may be correct and Stroman’s future will be as a reliever. All that said, the above scouting report can’t be said about many pitchers in the past, so maybe judging Stroman based off of what all those less talented than him failed to accomplish is the real red flag.
Yet another impressive young arm of smaller physical stature in Jays’ instructs was Alberto Tirado. I didn’t know anything about him before his instructs appearance other than the 5’11, 177 pound 17-year-old righty had some velocity and wasn’t just another org guy filling the roster. Tirado came at hitters sitting at 91-94 mph with late life, normally two-seam and had movement no matter where he threw it, often elevating late in the count. He showed plenty of faith in his off-speed pitches: a solid-average 84-85 mph changeup with good arm speed and some depth along with a 81-84 mph slider with three-quarters tilt, depth and occasional late bite for average potential.
Tirado isn’t without his faults, as his age alone should indicate. His slider was a clear third pitch that was often below average, as he often couldn’t finish the pitch. H had trouble staying on top of the pitch and getting action on it to his arm side, a few times leaving a spinner in the middle of the plate. His changeup is more advanced but is not a swing-and-miss pitch and his smaller stature means he can’t get the plane on his fastball as most pitching prospects. In addition, Tirado’s arm action is clean, but it takes a slightly longer path well behind his body that is very easy for hitters to follow. His three-quarters release point can get lower when he’s fatigued and he’ll turn into a slinger with lesser command.
Tirado isn’t anywhere near as polished as Stroman, but he’s also 3 1/2 years younger and that’s an unfair standard to begin with. There’s some projection in Tirado’s frame, he has good balance through a low-effort delivery where he takes a straight-on approach to the plate with good posture at release before his arm works well out front. There are a lot of things to like and since he’s only 17, lots can still happen for him. Back-end starter seems like his upside, but any team would take that for the $300,000 bonus that Toronto paid for Tirado last July.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.