The San Francisco Giants have won two of the past three World Series thanks largely to their ability to draft and develop starting pitchers. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum made significant contributions to the franchise's first two world championships since moving from New York in 1958, with homegrown relievers such as Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson playing vital roles as well.
That trend shows no sign of stopping, not if the performance of 2012 first-round pick Chris Stratton proves to be a harbinger of things to come. The right-hander from Mississippi State has put together a solid first full season in the professional ranks, posting a 7-3 record with a 3.81 ERA in 13 starts with the Augusta GreenJackets.
"To be honest, I wasn't a Giants fan, being from the South," said Stratton, the 20th overall selection in the 2012 Draft. "As soon as I started looking, I saw all of the pitchers they've developed and what a pitching-rich tradition the organization has. It was an honor that they thought so much of me to draft me so high."
Undrafted out of Tupelo High School, Stratton made impressive strides during his three years at Mississippi State. He earned a spot on the Southeastern Conference's All-Freshman team in 2010 after going 5-3, 5.29, then posted a 5-7, 5.21 mark as a sophomore. But he blossomed into an ace during his junior campaign, when he went 11-2 with a 2.38 ERA to earn SEC Pitcher of the Year honors. His final season included a 17-strikeout effort against LSU with Giants scouting director John Barr in attendance.
"Playing in the SEC really prepared me well, and the Mississippi State coaches did a great job of getting me ready to make the jump to pro ball," Stratton said. "It's nice not having to go to class now and just focusing on improving in baseball. I've felt good while working on a few things this season. I'm just trying to get ready for the next level. You're always trying to reinvent yourself and make sure that you're ready to go."
Stratton made his professional debut last July and went 0-1 with a 2.76 ERA in eight outings at Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League before he suffered a concussion after being struck by a batting practice line drive in mid August. Though precautions prevented him from attending instructional league, the pitcher experienced no lingering effects from the injury during Spring Training and proceeded to prove to the Giants that he was worthy of being a first-round pick.
He has continued to do so since opening the current campaign with Augusta. In his second start of the slate, Stratton held Charleston to one hit over five scoreless innings. On May 27, he blanked Hickory, limiting the powerful Crawdads' offense to a lone hit over seven frames. The righthander then posted back-to-back, six-hit, one-run outings on June 14 and June 22, against Charleston and Kannapolis, respectively.
"The big thing has been learning to use my fastball more consistently," Stratton said. "In college, the approach is to get ahead with the fastball and then throw some sliders. But here as a starter, you want to make sure you can get through a game and not show them everything you have. I'm definitely learning to be a lot more fastball-oriented while moving it in and out."
Stratton has also discovered that mistakes can prove costly. In his two most challenging appearances of the season, he allowed 11 hits and six earned runs against the RiverDogs on June 2 and at Asheville on June 30. Nevertheless, he continues to attack the strike zone with his low-to-mid 90s fastball, late-breaking slider and improving changeup while making the necessary adjustments.
"I'd like to get through my outings a little longer and limit the amount of runs I give up," Stratton said. "I feel like I've been giving up a little bit more than I should when I could have limited the damage. I feel like I'm learning every time I take the mound. As long as I learn from my mistakes, I feel I'll be headed in the right direction."
Fireworks and A-Rod: Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez played three innings in Tuesday night's game between Charleston and Rome at Riley Park and was scheduled to do so again Wednesday. Both contests featured traditional postgame Fourth of July fireworks and were near-sellouts before the news of A-Rod's arrival was made. "Certainly A-Rod is a little more mainstream than most players," RiverDogs GM Dave Echols told The Post and Courier. "You may not be an A-Rod fan, but like him or not, he's fun to watch. We're anxious to see how A-Rod is progressing. It should be fun."
Three Sally Leaguers in Futures Game: West Virginia second baseman Dilson Herrera and Hickory's Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro were named to the Futures Game rosters last week. Herrera, who is hitting .274/.331/.433, and Alfaro, the Crawdad catcher who is batting .263/.334/.458, will suit up for the World team, while outfielder Gallo will represent the United States. Gallo is the Minor League leader in home runs with 25, and 43 of his 68 hits have gone for extra bases. He's also struck out 125 times in his first 292 at-bats.
Power push onward: Pittsburgh promoted starting pitchers Joely Rodriguez and Orlando Castro and slugging first baseman Stetson Allie at the start of the second half, but those losses haven't hurt the Power in the standings. After finishing in third place in the Northern Division's first half with a 37-33 record, 2 ½ games behind first-place Hagerstown, West Virginia resides in first place with an 8-4 mark thus far in the second half, a half-game ahead of Hickory.