Undersized Marcus Stroman (Patchogue-Medford) has big hopes of making majors this season
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DUNEDIN, Fla. - Marcus Stroman is convinced that he can make it to the big leagues this season.
Now all he has to do is convince the Toronto Blue Jays.
He's labeled a "long shot" to crack the team's starting rotation to start the season, but that underdog status is nothing new for Stroman, who struggles to reach 5-9 on tiptoes but possesses four quality pitches, including a mid-90s fastball.
"I'm not 'supposed to make it,' '' said the product of Patchogue-Medford High School and Duke University. "By stereotype, I'm too short to pitch. But that's the kind of stuff that fuels you to be even better and prove people wrong. When you're about 5-8, that's not the prototypical pitcher. You know you're going to have to defy some odds to get there."
After beginning 2013 in extended spring training while completing a 50-game suspension that began in August 2012 -- he had tested positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine, which Stroman said he "unknowingly ingested" in an over-the-counter medication -- he proved to himself that he was ready to make the leap.
Pitching for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in his first full season in professional ball, the righthander was 9-5 with a 3.30 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 27 walks in 1112/3 innings, then thrived in the Arizona Fall League to merit his invitation to spring training.
"When he's on the mound, he fights for every out on every pitch," said Stroman's catcher with the Fisher Cats, Jack Murphy, also a spring training invitee. "He's very tenacious and a hard worker. Being smaller than most, I think he learned early on that he had to work harder.
"He may be 5-9, but he's a really athletic kid. I think it surprises people how electric he can be for somebody that size."
Stroman, who fires his fastball in the range of 95 to 98 mph with regularity, also throws a slider, a cutter and a changeup that Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson insisted he work on against both lefties and righties last season.
"Early on in Double-A, I was kind of shy to throw it. But it helped me dominate," Stroman said. "Right now, I have a pretty good feel for all my pitches. It's really about the count, the hitter, the situation. I don't get dependent on any particular pitch."
The Blue Jays have no shortage of candidates for the fifth starter's role, including veterans Ricky Romero, Dustin McGowan and Kyle Drabek. The field also includes Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Drew Hutchison and rookie Aaron Sanchez.
"Midway through spring training, things will start shaking out," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "Some guy could come out of nowhere and be that guy. We like [Stroman]. He's coming off a good year in AA. If he comes out in spring training and he's that guy, we'll go with him. Who knows? Competition is good for everybody."
Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker is getting his first extended live look at Stroman, who was in minor-league spring training last season and pitched against the Phillies in an exhibition game at Citizens Bank Park.
"Seeing him throw and seeing the command of the fastball, his breaking stuff and his changeup, we know he definitely has three 'plus' pitches and knows how to use them," said Walker, who has watched considerable video of Stroman. "I know he can expand that slider when he needs to. He throws strikes."
Murphy said Stroman made strides last season, learning how to pitch inside and set up his pitches.
Now Stroman would like to take a huge stride. "After the year that I had, I feel I'm ready to contribute at that highest level,'' he said. "Last year kind of justified it, and it makes me hungrier to work harder to get [to the big leagues] at some point this year.
"I understand that it will be tough to make it out of spring training. From a business side of things, I'm not even on the 40-man roster yet. But to be honest, I'm not even slightly worried about that.
"If I do make it, that will be unbelievable. But I'm not going to be discouraged if I don't. I'll start wherever I start and the whole goal will be making it to the [American] League at some point this year. That's what I'm working for and that's what I'm hoping for."