After his final season in high school, Marcus Stroman was selected in the 18th round and 532nd overall by the Washington Nationals in the Major League Baseball Draft. But the Medford, N.Y. native opted to attend Duke and put his professional career on hold.
Three years later, rising senior Stroman has become the first Blue Devil to ever be selected in the first round of the MLB draft, going 22nd overall to the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I found out [watching on] TV. It was exciting. I had no idea until I saw it.” Stroman said. “They said my name, and it was just an unbelievable reaction from my family and friends.”
Stroman and the Blue Jays have until July 13 to agree on a contract. Stroman said he is hopeful he will sign and have the opportunity to play soon, although if the two teams cannot come to terms, Stroman will remain eligible to play his senior season at Duke.
“I hear Toronto is an unbelievable city, and I hear the fan base there is incredible. They’ve already been reaching out to me through Twitter,” Stroman said. “We’ll see what happens in the negotiation process through the next couple weeks.”
Interim head coach Edwin Thompson, however, said it is unlikely he will return because most first-round picks sign with their teams.
While at Duke, Stroman led NCAA pitchers with 136 strikeouts this season in 98.0 innings. He finished with a 2.39 ERA and held opposing batters to a .231 average, on his way to second-team All-America and first-team All-ACC honors.
Despite those strong numbers, Stroman played more in the field than as a pitcher when he first came to Duke, starting 47 games as primarily an outfielder his freshman season. He also pitched, however, compiling a 5.31 ERA.
As a sophomore, he established himself as an elite pitcher, playing less in the field and registering a 2.80 ERA as both a starter and reliever. This past season, all 14 of his appearances were as a starter, although professional scouts have speculated he could end up as a relief pitcher professionally because of his 5-foot-9 frame, considered small for a professional pitcher.
“Just coming to a place like Duke and being the first-first rounder hopefully will set a trend for years to come,” Stroman said.
Thompson, who served as a recruiting coordinator before head coach Sean McNally resigned last week, believes the attention Stroman has brought to the Duke program could be important for building the Blue Devil brand.
“No question it has helped, and it’s definitely something we sell. It’s an important piece,” Thompson said. “It’s one of those deals with people similar to him—we recruit a lot of two-way players—and it helps sell that fact and opportunity.”
Incoming freshman James Marvel, committed to play baseball at Duke next year, may seek to replicate Stroman’s collegiate path. A two-way player like Stroman, playing both shortstop and first base in addition to pitching, Marvel is a highly-touted recruit from Moraga, Calif. and was selected in the 37th round of this year’s draft by the Minnesota Twins.
Marvel’s father, John, confirmed in a phone interview that his son will opt to play at Duke instead of signing with the Twins.
“I think anybody understands at this point in the draft that’s the best decision for them,” Thompson said.
Ranked the No. 74 recruit in the country according to ESPN.com, Marvel would have been selected higher in the draft if not for his strong commitment to the Blue Devils.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander projects to be a fixture in the Duke starting rotation for the next three seasons, featuring a hard fastball and potential to develop his off-speed pitches.
And, when Marvel will be eligible for the draft again three years from now, he might be able to look back on his time at Duke see he has made the same progress up draft boards the way Stroman did.
“It feels like all the hard work I put in over the past few years has paid off,” Stroman said. “I love Duke. I wouldn’t have wanted to go to any other school academically or athletically.”