Marcus Stroman has a plan, and it mostly involves striking out two of his baseball idols, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano.
But before he gets to that stage, he's got some other options. A new clothing line is in the works, as is a growing sneaker collection. Most Blue Jays fans, though, would rather see Stroman in Toronto than have him modeling his new threads on Twitter.
Stroman is enjoying it all. The Jays' first-round pick in 2012 said he's being converted into a starting pitcher this season when Spring Training begins later this month. A Duke product who blossomed with Team USA, Stroman went 3-0 with a 3.26 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings at two levels last summer before missing the final month due to a drug suspension. He'll likely begin this year in extended spring training before trying to prove his critics wrong again.
We spoke with the 5-foot-9 right-hander about his past and hopes for the future:
MiLB.com: With Spring Training approaching, how anxious are you to get back on the mound and geared up for this season?
Marcus Stroman: I'm excited, I've been feeling like it'd been forever since I've played. This is really my first offseason, I've never experienced this time off before. I've been home for four months, so that's the first time I haven't been around practice.
MiLB.com: Take me back to last summer when you were drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round.
Stroman: It was unbelievable. We had a party in my house, close friends and family who'd been there through it all over the years. It was a dream come true. It showed all the hard work I'd put in had finally paid off.
MiLB.com: You had some big seasons at Duke -- what was your overall experience like there? What other schools were you considering?
Stroman: I wasn't highly recruited out of high school. I didn't get any recognition until my senior year after I'd already committed to Duke. I talked to a couple Ivy League schools, Stanford for a little bit, but Duke ended up being the best choice. It was closer to home on the East Coast. My parents didn't want to let me go to some baseball factory and not get a good education.
MiLB.com: Tell me about pitching for Team USA, you had some ridiculous numbers in 2011 -- 8 1/3 innings, 17 strikeouts, no hits allowed.
Stroman: That was my second coming-out party -- that really put me on the map. The first time I got put on the map was my summer in Cape Cod. I closed for Orleans and that propelled me into the next year. That was the best experience I've had, coming in to that atmosphere and having "USA" on my jersey and playing with the best talent in the nation. It's definitely something I'll never forget.
MiLB.com: You've played twice at Fenway Park, once in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game and again with Team USA. What was it like to get on that mound?
Stroman: Unbelievable. I'm so excited to get to the big leagues 'cause I feel like the more people watching and the more attention there is, the better I perform. I remember kind of running out from the 'pen and taking the mound, I could see myself doing that for a while. The mound was literally perfect, the landing was so strong.
MiLB.com: You pitched in 15 games last season, how was it moving from North Carolina to Vancouver for a few weeks?
Stroman: It was awesome. I didn't know what to expect. I was down in Florida for a week, and then they shipped me off to Canada, to Vancouver. Vancouver was ... maybe the best city I've ever been to. The weather was gorgeous. They have a great stadium and it's packed every night, so it was an unbelievable place to start my career out.
MiLB.com: Were you surprised the Blue Jays promoted you straight from short-season to Double-A? How noticeable was the different in talent at New Hampshire?
Stroman: I felt like it wasn't that much of a difference. The biggest adjustment I made was because the hitters had better approaches at the plate. The talent wasn't that much greater, but everyone at Double-A wouldn't swing at balls that they would in Vancouver. I had to execute in certain counts and couldn't get away with mistakes.
MiLB.com: You're all over Twitter lately -- talking baseball, promoting your upcoming clothing line and the "TeamStro" fan page. How important is it for you to connect with fans?
Stroman: That's honestly the best part of the game. It's so exciting to go down to my first Spring Training and interact and talk and kick it with them. Twitter, I love it, it's the best thing for sports -- fans get to interact with players. "Height Doesn't Measure Heart" (HDMH) is my new clothing line -- I feel like there's a lot of undersized athletes who will respect it and want to rock some gear.
MiLB.com: Tell me about the apparel line. What's the concept, the look?
Stroman: Basically I'm just starting it; the designs are showing up now. T-shirts, 3/4-sleeve shirts and tank tops to start. Eventually we'll be working into hoodies, sweats, bracelets, hats, snapbacks. We're going to start small and get what people want, get the logo and idea out there and then go full steam aheaad.
MiLB.com: I guess your height has been a topic of discussion, and some folks have compared you to Tom Gordon. Who do you think you're most comparable to?
Stroman: Honestly, I'm starting to believe the Tom Gordon comparisons myself because I've heard it so many times (laughs). I've heard it almost daily. I've never had the opportunity to see him pitch, but I've talked to my pitching coach who played with Tom Gordon and he says the same thing. I guess it's accurate and it's not a bad comparison. He played what, 17, 18 years in the Majors? I'll take that any day.
MiLB.com: You grew up on Long Island, so I'm guessing you were a Mets fan?
Stroman: I was a Yankees fan growing up. I wasn't a diehard, but I just enjoyed going to games. I was a Derek Jeter fan -- I'm a huge Robinson Cano fan. But I have to get out of that mindset, I have to get these guys out in the near future, maybe this year. But I'm a Blue Jays fan now and that's all I care about, getting up there and producing.
MiLB.com: You won the Paul Gibson Award, which goes to the top pitcher on Long Island, and your cousin Erskine Kelley played in the Pirates system. Was he an inspiration? Was baseball always a big part of your life growing up?
Stroman: Growing up, I played all three sports -- basketball, baseball and football. Baseball was always my third favorite. I still have a huge love for basketball -- if I had been blessed with height, I would have played. It was my favorite, but I knew I would make it further in baseball, so I dedicated myself to that in the eighth or ninth grade. My cousin ... I still keep in touch with him, he talks baseball everyday -- he loves it. My dad never played baseball -- he was a football guy -- but he pushed me to do it. He'd take me all over, so I definitely have to thank my mom and father for doing that growing up.
MiLB.com: So in August, you were suspended for using a banned stimulant that you said was in an over-the-counter supplement. A number of players have tested positive over the past few years for methylhexaneamine, which is in some pre-workout products. What's your side of the story and how has it affected you?
Stroman: It was an honest mistake. People didn't realize that I would never, ever cheat the game. That's not who I am, that's not how I was raised. But I'm working harder now than I've ever worked in my life. I know what [the suspension] is, so I'll honor it, serve the rest of my games. I couldn't be happier to get back out there, to be able to prove everyone wrong and do my thing.
MiLB.com: It was a 50-game suspension, so I'm guessing you'll begin this season in extended spring training. What type of things are you planning to work on in terms of your pitches, mechanics, etc.? Do you know what date you're eligible to return?
Stroman: I don't know the exact date, but I know around mid May. I'm excited, I heard I'm going to be extended into a starter to begin with, so that's exciting. I throw four pitches, and I'm starting to mix in my changeup and cutter. I've been working on the changeup. It's getting very good, so I'm excited to get out there with my four-pitch repertoire and show that I can start. People would tell me I can't start due to my height, but I did it my whole year at Duke. And if the Blue Jays end up moving me back to the bullpen, that's fine -- I don't care.
MiLB.com: How far away from the Majors do you think you are at this point?
Stroman: I think I'm ready. I've been working extremely hard, I know I can pitch at the big league level. I just need to go out and do it on a consistent basis in the Minors.