While some see the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting rotation as a weakness, others view it as an opportunity. Pitching prospects Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman, in Toronto for the organization’s rookie development camp, both say they aim to make the Blue Jays out of spring training.
“I think that’s everyone’s goal,” Stroman says. “But I’m not going to be discouraged if I’m not. I’m going to do everything in my power to force that move, but I’m not going to be discouraged.”
“I’ll go down, I’ll work, I’ll do everything that I have to do to hopefully get a shot this year. The goal is to get here and stay.”
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) January 8, 2014
The 22-year-old right-hander impressed in his first full season as a professional, posting a 3.30 ERA with 129 strikeouts and just 27 walks at double-A New Hampshire. Now the Duke product has the chance to figure into the Blue Jays’ 2014 plans. There’s lots of uncertainty after starters R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow, meaning prospects including Stroman and Nolin could get their shot.
“I’ve been working this whole off-season just trying to get as strong as I can and I’d love to be a part of the team starting off,” Nolin says. “I’d like to compete for a job. I hope they’re looking at me for that, so I’m going to go in there trying to do whatever I can do.”
Nolin did get one chance to start last year, but the Baltimore Orioles lit him up in a forgettable May outing. He says he might have been over-anxious at the time and has worked to become mentally and physically strong in the months since.
“I’m a serious guy on the field, but I try to mellow out a little bit and tell myself you’re going to fail,” Nolin says. “If you don’t fail, you’re the best pitcher or position player that’s ever existed. You’ve just got to take the failure the right way instead of the wrong way.”
But one start is no way to assess a pitcher who combined to post a 2.77 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 35 walks in 110.1 minor league innings. The 24-year-old left-hander went to the Dominican Winter League after the season to push his innings total closer to 150. He says he’s now feeling looser, stronger and healthier than he did at the beginning of the 2013 season, so he anticipates a full workload of 180 innings or so in 2013.
While Nolin got a taste of MLB action firsthand, Stroman had to wait, watching as former teammates graduated from the minor leagues. Michael Wacha, a friend of Stroman’s from their Team USA days, pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Wacha’s quick ascent was encouraging for Stroman, who was drafted three picks after his friend in the first round of the 2012 draft.
“I was just talking to him about it,” Stroman says. “Seeing him perform at that level it’s exciting because you definitely put yourself in his shoes and you think that that can be you next year. It’s encouraging and it’s something that I love.”
Listed at five-foot-nine, Stroman concedes that he’s ‘not very big,’ especially in comparison to most MLB starters. But seeing Sonny Gray excel for the Oakland Athletics was encouraging for Stroman, who has drawn comparisons to the compact right-hander in the past.
“He’s an undersized guy himself,” Stroman says. “Having success at that level he shows that it’s not always the stereotypes that work. Definitely seeing Wacha and Sonny Gray work was great.”
Like Gray, Stroman faced questions about his ability to start as soon as he was drafted. Stroman, who has pitched in relief and started, says he’s prepared to do whatever the Blue Jays want.
“I’m starting to like starting better only because I’m recently doing it and I’m getting pretty accustomed to it and using my entire repertoire is fun in a game instead of coming into a game and predominantly using two pitches,” he says. “I still have the bulldog mentality to come late into games and shut it down.”
For now he’s preparing as a starter to ensure he’s ready when the Blue Jays do call on him. But even if Stroman’s off of the roster, he can still have some fun. He showed up to rookie camp wearing a bow-tie and says he enjoys connecting with Blue Jays fans on Twitter and in person.
“I enjoy dressing up, I enjoy interacting with fans,” he says. “I try and have a smile on my face at all times. I really just enjoy life and everything I do is for the best. Nothing that I do is ever to show that I’m trying to show people up or ‘he’s all about himself.’ I literally just do it out of the kindness of my heart and it’s fun. I enjoy it. I’m in a position that people would love to be in and I try to enjoy every second of it.”