The Giants entered the 1st round of the 2012 draft with the 20th selection and came away with Mississippi State RHP Chris Stratton. The last time San Francisco used their 1st round pick on a college pitcher was in 2006. That year they took RHP Tim Lincecum 10th overall. He was in the major league rotation the following season and from 2007-2011 racked up 23.7 wins above replacement while winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009. I’d say that pick turned out rather well for the Giants.
Can Chris Stratton reward the organization similarly for going back to the college pitching ranks with their top draft? It’s hard to imagine that he could come close, but that doesn’t mean he won’t find big league success and the Giants have had plenty of success developing quality arms into front-of-the rotation major league pitchers.
2012: 17 G (12 GS), 109.2 IP, 2.38 ERA, 84 H, 27 BB and 127 SO
2011: 17 G (14 GS), 76.0 IP, 5.21 ERA, 83 H, 27 BB and 76 SO
2010: 14 G (14 GS), 78.1 IP, 5.29 ERA, 84 H, 42 BB and 76 SO
Baseball America had Stratton rated as the 18th best pre-draft prospect in their Top-500. So just based off their ranking, he went right in the range that his performance and profile – relative to his peers – merited. However, Stratton picked up a good deal of helium from the end of his Sophomore season in 2011, his foray in the Cape Cod League and his standout performance in the SEC this spring. The end result of his recent success caused some sources to tab him as a Top-15 or even Top-10 talent. He took home 2012 SEC Pitcher of the Year honors and, proving he’s not just an athlete, was named an Academic All-American with a 3.81 GPA.
It’s not hard to see why the Giants were ecstatic when he was still available once they were on the clock.
At around 6’3″ and 190 lbs, Stratton is well built with a nearly ideal frame to be a future rotation fixture. He utilizes a four pitch mix – fastball, slider, curve, changeup – and is capable of throwing all four for strikes. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but he can run it up to 95-96 when he needs to. The pitch’s velocity is augmented by natural movement making it a potentially above average offering. Of his three off-speed pitches, his slider is the best and can be a true swing-and-miss offering that should develop into a consistently plus pitch. There are some varying reports regarding his curveball and changeup but most accounts project them to be at least average major league weapons while the curve sometimes gets bumped up as potentially above average or plus.
While he doesn’t have the control and command of someone like Royals 1st round selection, Kyle Zimmer (5th overall), Stratton grades out to average or above average in those areas. He also earns positive marks for his poise, presence and natural feel for pitching. His studies in the field of kinesiology further augment the prospect package that is Chris Stratton.
Reading about his stuff and other positive traits you might be wondering how such a prospect lasted until the 20th pick instead of going in the top-10. One of the contributing factors is age. He’s a bit older than most college juniors and will turn 22 in August. That may not seem like a big deal but it does mean he will have to move at a more accelerated timetable. Another factor in his ranking is that 2012 was a breakout season for him and it remains to be seen if he will be able to carry that forward.
Of course these are relatively minor things. His lack of track record is far from unusual and plenty of college starters put it all together in their junior or senior seasons. While he can’t get away from his age, he does have the profile and stuff of a pitcher that should be able to move quickly in the minors and if he reaches Double-A by next summer he will basically be on track.
In the end he’s a future rotation fixture with the upside of a #2 starter and he doesn’t have any glaring concerns or red flags following him into professional baseball. Given the profile, he should be able to handle an initial assignment to Augusta in the South Atlantic League (A). An eventual promotion to San Jose (A+) before the season is over would also be a reasonable expectation.
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