Perhaps it was Yoda who put it best when he said, "Size matters not." Marcus Stroman believes that statement applies to him.
Following a college career at Duke, where he finished fourth in the school history with 290 strikeouts, Stroman was selected 22nd overall in the 2012 Draft by the Blue Jays. After signing, he pitched 19 1/3 innings between short-season Vancouver and Double-A New Hampshire before serving a 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Policy. He described the transgression as an honest mistake related to an over-the-counter substance.
Stroman returned to the mound last May and took the Eastern League by storm, going 9-5 with with a 3.30 ERA and 129 strikeouts over 110 innings, good for ninth in the circuit despite pitching fewer games than everyone ahead of him. Next followed an Arizona Fall League stint in which he held foes to a .186 batting average. And in January, the New York native was named MLB.com's No. 55 overall prospect.
Stroman talks about that honor, his relationship with his family and dealing with the stigma of being shorter than the "ideal" pitcher.
MiLB.com:How do you feel your 2013 campaign went?
Marcus Stroman: I feel like it was great. It felt like it was a good season, a good first full professional season to have under my belt. I feel like I made strides from the beginning to the end of the season. I was able to go out there and compete and put my team in a position to win.
MiLB.com:How hard was it to miss time due to the suspension?
Stroman: It was tough knowing that everyone else was out there playing while I was in extended [spring training], but I also used that as a huge developmental period to learn how to pitch and work on my whole arsenal. I was able to get all my pitches ready rather than go out there right away and having to figure it out. I felt like everything in my arsenal was ready to go when I was done serving those games. It kind of sprung me into the season. I wouldn't look at it as a negative at all because I used that time to develop, and it helped me the whole year.
MiLB.com: What did you learn last season?
Stroman: I learned how to pitch. I'm still making strides, using my arsenal, really developing my changeup, using my changeup more. That was probably the biggest emphasis on the entire year, was just to throw my changeup more because it's a pitch I've been developing for a few years. Learning how to get hitters out. Becoming more of a pitcher, not just go out there and try to strike people out but learn how to set people up and hit my spots.
MILB.com:Talk about your repertoire.
Stroman: I throw a fastball, four-seam, two-seam, changeup, slider and a cutter. My cutter and my changeup have been the two pitches I've improved on the most the last year and a half. They've been huge helps getting hitters out and keeping hitters off my fastball. My slider is my go-to strikeout pitch. I wouldn't necessarily say I favor any pitch, it's really gauging the hitter and what pitch to throw in the moment. I feel like I have pretty good control over all four pitches. Just having that confidence in your pitches is half the battle.
MiLB.com:You struck out 13 in a game twice last year, tying a New Hampshire record. How proud are you of that?
Stroman: It was great. It was an awesome experience. That was one of those games where you get zoned in and your pitches are working and you get locked in and it's just you and the catcher. Those pitching performances were definitely the highlight of my career. I wish I could have broken the record, but my pitch count was way too high. That's something I'll try and work on going forward, getting more outs earlier in counts. Getting [the record] was fun.
MiLB.com: What was your Arizona Fall League experience like?
Stroman: It was amazing, one of the top experiences I've had playing baseball. Just to be around that level of talent and play against the best prospects in the game is awesome. You really get to gauge where your game is at playing against those guys. Anywhere from picking up tips, talking pitching, talking to hitters, I think it helped me tremendously going into this year. It was a really positive experience.
MiLB.com: Is it tough hearing people dismiss you because of your height?
Stroman: Not at all. I've heard that my whole life; it doesn't even faze me. It motivates me to be even better. Everyone says I'm too short to be a starting pitcher and I have to be a relief pitcher. I just keep quiet and work and continue to go out and prove to people I can be a starter despite being 5-foot-8. I don't believe in stereotypes because I've had to face them my whole life and I continually had to go against the grain. It's something that motivates me.
MiLB.com: Do you ever read what people say and use it as for motivation?
Stroman: Absolutely. I used to go and read everything and I'd keep it in the back of my head and that's what I'd use when I was working out or when I was on the mound. Being short, I've been that my whole life, it's not like I'm going to grow from here on out. Honestly, it doesn't even bother me. I know the prototypical pitcher is 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, but I feel like I can get the job done just as well as anyone that height.
MiLB.com: I saw on Twitter that you have a tattoo of a Martin Luther King Junior quote. Is he someone you look up to?
Stroman: Absolutely, he changed the world. Being an African-American myself, he changed the world for us. He was a huge supporter of civil rights and I feel like he had something to do with me being able to play baseball. That quote really touches home for me. Throughout your life, you're going to face a ton of adversity. That's how you show who you truly are. It's not necessarily when times are going good that shows what the person's like, it's when times are bad that true character comes out. That quote has hit home for me, and being a fan of tattoos I felt the need to get that tattooed on me.
MiLB.com: What's it like, since you're from New York, knowing that if and when you get to the big leagues you'll get to pitch in Yankee Stadium?
Stroman: That's going to be amazing. I have to be honest, it's going to be a dream come true because I grew up, not necessarily a Yankees fan, but watching Yankees games. That was kind of where my childhood was at. I always have dreams of that being my debut at Yankee Stadium. I should have a lot of family there and it will be exciting to play in New York, being from there.
MiLB.com: What was it like seeing your name on MLB.com's Top Prospect list?
Stroman: It was awesome. It was unreal. Last year, I wasn't on that Top 100 and I felt slighted and I kept that in the back of my head and I went out there and had a good year. To see my name with that level of talent, it shows you that all your hard work pays off. Hopefully, I can climb the charts and, hopefully, get off that prospect list soon.
MiLB.com: How did your friendship with Aaron Sanchez come about, given that you've played at different levels?
Stroman: [Laughing] We actually just made some dinner. He stays with me while we're down here in Spring Training. I met him when I went to instructional league in 2012 and we just clicked. We're both chasing this dream and we both want to make it to the highest level, so we just clicked. We really get along and he's one of the best pitchers out there. Just being able to be around someone like that constantly makes you work harder just because it's kind of like a competition. We talk pitching and watch the MLB channel constantly. We even did it during the year -- when one of us had a bad outing we'd hit each other up. Having someone like that in your corner is great. It's more of a brother bond at this point and I look forward to being great friends with him my entire career.
MiLB.com: We had a question from Twitter user Paul Gibson III (PG3Studz): Marcus, what do you attribute your success to most, natural ability or the hard work you put in during the offseason?
Stroman: I think it's a little bit of both. You can never just use your natural ability because that's never enough. Growing up, I lived by the quote, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." You don't want to be the guy who wastes talent and just used his ability and knew that he wasn't working hard. You need both. You need to work just as if you didn't have any talent. So I definitely attribute it to that.
I also attribute it to the motivation and influence of my family and my dad. He taught me how to work from a very young age. He instilled that hard work factor.
MiLB.com: It sounds like your family has been a big influence on your career.
Stroman: I can't preach to you enough. Me and my dad all growing up, we didn't have the best relationship at the time, but it was because he wanted the most for me. He pushed me to the limit where sometimes it put our relationship on edge, but I can't thank him enough now that he did that for me. He really made me the athlete I am today. From taking me to putting me in every league to pushing me to run on hills, you can name it, he did it for me. My mom was there to comfort when times were getting tough, when my dad was pushing me too hard. It was a good balance and I have a great relationship with them. I want to make it to the next level and spoil them and give back to the people who made me who I am.