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Marcus Stroman's starter potential

4/7/2012
Marcus Stroman displays an extremely aggresive approach when he pitches. Jon Gardiner/Duke Photography

Duke right-hander Marcus Stroman would go in the top five picks this year if he were only about five or six inches taller, but at 5-foot-9 or 5-foot-8, he's facing an uphill battle to convince scouts that he can be more than a reliever in the majors. Yet if we ignore his lack of height for the moment, he has essential ingredients for a starter -- an above-average fastball, an out pitch among his secondary offerings, a weapon to use against lefties, and an extremely aggressive approach along with self-confidence that practically drenches the mound when he pitches.

Stroman, who last year became the first Blue Devil to qualify for Team USA's final roster, was 93-95 early Friday night and still sitting at 92-93 in the eighth inning, generating that velocity from his lower half, including strong hip rotation to create torque and help accelerate his arm. He starts with a high leg kick and drops down as he drives forward to the plate, pronating his elbow early and finishing well out over his front side.

The revelation for Stroman on Friday night was his changeup, with good arm speed at 82-83 and enough fading action to call it above-average, although he didn't throw enough to show me how well he can locate it anywhere other than the outside corner to righties. Stroman's two breaking balls run together in the 81-85 range -- one's a hard slurve, the other like a slider-cutter -- but he dominated Clemson hitters with both pitches, punching out 13 in nine innings, locating them in the zone, below it, and at left-handed hitters' back feet.

Stroman's stature means he doesn't get much plane on his fastball, and because he doesn't have great life on it, pro hitters will square it up more often than you'd expect given his velocity; in the bullpen, he could sit 95-97 or better and blow it by more hitters. But I don't think it's fair to let his height lead to worries about his durability (he threw 122 pitches on Friday, too much for a college starter, but what does Duke care since he's leaving in two months?), and he's got multiple offspeed pitches to get hitters out.

I'd send him out as a starter and let the hitters tell me whether he can stay there, but don't be surprised if a team takes him high with the intention of bringing him to the big leagues before 2012 is out. Either way he's a likely top-20 pick.

• Another likely top-20 pick notched two hits and a walk-off against Stroman on Friday, Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer, bringing plus bat speed but not showing the raw power that has helped him shoot up draft boards.

Shaffer accelerates his hands very quickly and stays pretty balanced overall at the plate, starting to drift but arresting it once he gets his hands started; he can keep his hands inside the ball well to go the other way, but you can see where he'd be able to drive the ball if he got his arms extended. He put three Stroman fastballs in play last night, two for hits, the third a well-struck flyout to right.

Shaffer's an agile defender with at least a 60 arm (perhaps a 65) and showed a lot of energy in infield practice and even in the game. In a draft that's very light on college bats, I can't imagine Shaffer gets out of the top 15.

• Clemson starter Kevin Brady was 90-94, sitting around 91, and got some pretty ugly swings (granted, Duke's lineup isn't exactly the '27 Yankees) on the fastball all night. He didn't show an average second pitch and he telegraphs his breaking ball when he releases it, but given his size and arm strength he's a follow for somewhere after the third or fourth round, and I wonder if he'd sit more in the 94-95 range out of the pen.

• Clemson reliever Scott Firth was 92-95 for several innings in relief of Brady, but the command wasn't great and there's a lot of violence in the delivery, including a head-whack and a cut off landing that limits his ability to locate to his glove side. But the arm strength alone will get him drafted once the higher-ticket high school kids are no longer signable.

• I mentioned on Twitter yesterday that Georgia Tech pitcher Luke Bard is out with a torn lat muscle, which, assuming he's done for the year, adds him to the pile of injured top prospects. Matt Smoral (stress fracture in his foot), Rio Ruiz (surgery to remove a clot in his neck), Matthew Crownover (Tommy John surgery), Victor Roache (broken wrist), C.J. Hinojosa (surgery on non-throwing shoulder), Alex Bregman (broken finger) and Fernelys Sanchez (broken leg) are all out for the spring, while Bard, Luc Giolito (sore elbow, may return in May), Pierce Johnson (forearm tightness, return unknown), and David Dahl (strained hip flexor, out for a few games) may play again before the draft. Smoral threw well even in the game where he hurt his foot throwing on a makeshift mound on a football field, so his draft stock may not vary much, but Johnson had moved into first-round consideration and needs to return to secure that.