John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Marcus Stroman has always been driven to prove the doubters wrong. It's in his DNA as someone who has defied huge odds by becoming a major league starting pitcher at the height of 5-foot-7, and people who know him say it explains why he talks such a big game.
In his first comments of spring training, for example, Stroman told reporters in Port St. Lucie, Florida, this week that he has "the best sinker in the league" and that he is "pretty much unstoppable" when he's in a good place mentally, among other things.
Strong stuff for a guy who didn't quite live up to expectations upon arriving in the midst of the Mets' wild-card push last August, via the trade from the Blue Jays, before finishing strong in September.
But it's no surprise at all to a scout for a National League team, who works mostly on the amateur side, one who got to know Stroman when he was evaluating him as a high school kid on Long Island.
"That's Marcus," the scout said with a laugh this week. "I love him for it. You need that belief if you're going to make it to the big leagues at his size. The guy has a huge heart and he's always looking for something to motivate him.
"I know him pretty well and I know for a fact that he's more motivated than ever after what (Yankees general manager Brian) Cashman said about him last year, that he didn't trade for him because Marcus wouldn't have cracked the Yankees' starting rotation (in the postseason).
"That stuck in his craw. It's the kind of thing that has fueled him since he was a kid."
Actually, Stroman pretty much let the world know how he felt about the Cashman slight, after the Yankees' GM was quoted in a September Yahoo Sports column by Wally Matthews, saying: "We were interested (at the trade deadline) but we didn't think he'd be a difference-maker. We felt he would be in our bullpen in the postseason."
To that, Stroman responded on Twitter with a graphic comparing his numbers last season to those of the Yankees' starting pitchers, along with the comment, "Straight cash homie."
So, no, he didn't leave much doubt, but the scout added a little more context:
"I just know he doesn't forget things like that," he said. "I was told that he really wanted to be a Yankee (at the trade deadline), so it had to sting to hear that kind of thing. And I'm sure he's going to want to have the kind of year where he can get the last laugh, especially going into free agency.
"My only concern is that I think he's at his best when he's not over-amped and he's not overthrowing. You saw that when he came over to the Mets last year. He wanted to dominate so badly that he was overthrowing his sinker and his slider, and his location was off.
"So I feel like it's always a fine line with Marcus. He'll always bring the intensity but I think he's at his best when he settles in and just pitches, the way he did after he got through that transition period after the trade. He looked more like himself late in the year."
In fact, Stroman's September ERA was two runs lower than it was for August, 2.91 to 4.91. Obviously the Mets would love something like that over a full season in 2020, and his comments this week indicate that he believes he'll deliver.
But is it realistic?
Two other scouts who have evaluated Stroman only since he's been in the big leagues said they see him as a No. 3-type starter who is going to have his ups and downs over the course of the season, largely because he's not a power pitcher.
"He can't pitch up in the zone, where so many guys are going to take advantage of launch-angle swings," one scout said. "His velocity is down a bit since he came into the league, in the 92-94 range, and his success depends on a good sinker with movement, and a good slider.
"When he's sharp he gets hitters to swing at those pitches down and out of the strike zone, and he's started throwing a cutter more the last couple of seasons as something that he doesn't necessarily have to be down to be effective. But he's really got to locate down to be effective and that doesn't leave him much margin for error."
Another scout, noting that lefties hit .291 against Stroman, said he'd like to see the righthander work to develop a more effective change-up as a third pitch instead of the cutter.
As it was, according to BrooksBaseball.net, Stroman threw his change-up only 4.5 percent of his total pitches last season, compared to 25 percent for his cutter, 30 percent for his slider, and 37 percent for his sinker.
"I wouldn't abandon his cutter," the scout said, "but I'd use it more as something in on lefties that could stand them up, which opens up the outside of the plate for the change-up fading away, with a good speed variation.
"The bottom line is he's a solid starter whose athleticism adds value as a fielder, but he needs to get swings on pitches out of the strike zone to be dominant, and without high-end velocity he's got to pitch his butt off to do that."
So it remains to be seen if Stroman will be as "unstoppable" as he suggested this week. At the very least, however, he's apparently never been more motivated, and for him that's quite a statement.