Chris Stratton has at least two things going for him that bode well for success as a San Francisco Giants starting pitcher: He's a Southern-born hard thrower.
Born in Tupelo, the same Mississippi town as Elvis, 23-year-old Stratton is a first-round pick with a fastball that tops out around 94 mph. Sounds a little like Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain.
The pair of pitchers helped welcome Stratton to the organization. In 2012, when Stratton signed his name to a contract worth $1.85 million, he did so in San Francisco. The visit to AT&T Park gave the right-hander a chance to see how high the Giants' Southern gentlemen set the bar.
"I got to see Bumgarner throw in person," said Stratton, who's rated by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in the San Francisco farm system. "He struck out like 13 or 14 and just had an unbelievable day."
If that's not intimidating enough, it could have been worse: Matt Cain threw a perfect game the next day.
"Kinda sad I missed that one," said Stratton, now in his third season as a pro ballplayer.
Before Stratton ever gets the chance to throw dominant pitching performances at AT&T Park, the road to the big stage runs through the minor leagues, and this year that means San Jose Municipal Stadium, home of the Class-A Giants. Both Bumgarner and Cain started their careers in the South Bay before becoming World Series champions in 2010 and 2012.
Stratton had a solid first season as a starting pitcher in 2013. In 22 starts with Class-A Augusta, he went 9-3 with a 3.27 ERA.
"Stratton has the chance to have an exciting four-pitch mix, all coming from the kind of ideal pitching frame scouts love," MLB.com's Draft Tracker stated. "He throws a sneaky fastball up to 94 mph with ease and with good movement."
This season, the 6'3" pitcher can show Giants fans in the Bay Area his repertoire of pitches. And like Cain and Bumgarner do 50 miles to the north, Stratton says he will bring the heat as often as he can.
“Try to get them out with a fastball as much as possible," Stratton said. "Fastball, you work in-and-out, two seam. I got a curveball, slider, and a changeup, so I try to get them all in there as much as possible.”
Stratton said he will not nibble around the strike zone with his fastball. He was successful attacking hitters in his junior year at Mississippi State, striking out 127 batters compared to just 25 walks in 109.2 innings, an astounding 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
That year, he won the SEC Pitcher of the Year award, going 11-2 with a 2.38 ERA over 12 starts. Stratton said he will continue to attack the zone, and if he gets hit, he has confidence the ball will find a glove, especially in the wide-open spaces of AT&T Park.
"You gotta attack them with confidence and strikes,” he said. "The best pitch in baseball is strike one. The next best pitch is strike two, so you just got to keep attacking them and trust your stuff and trust your defense behind you."
Stratton is off to a rough start with San Jose, with a 2-5 record and 4.97 ERA in eight starts. He has walked 16 batters in 41.2 innings in those starts, which is probably a bit higher than he would like, but he said he will continue to strive for better results by pitching his game.
"I'm just trying to get ahead of people and attack people with my fastball," he said. "Being a starter, you're trying to get deep into games, and you can't really show them everything you got too early....That's what I've really been trying to do for the past--last year--and continuing on this year, so hopefully, I could continue to improve."
So far, the Bay Area has been a perfect fit for Stratton and his wife. He said they are enjoying the lovely weather and recently spent an off day touring a redwood forest.
And there is at least one thing he would enjoy if he makes it up to San Francisco.
"There are a lot of neat things to do and a lot of great places to eat, so that's always good," Stratton said.
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