There was plenty of reason for excitement in San Francisco Giants’ camp following the selection of Chris Stratton out of Mississippi State in 2012.
After two sub-par seasons for the Bulldogs in his freshman and sophomore outings, Stratton turned the corner in 2012, posting a 2.38 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 109 ⅔ innings as the team’s ace. He ranked second in strikeouts in a Southeastern Conference that included Kevin Gausman, , Brian Johnson and Austin Maddox, all highly-ranked pro baseball prospects.
The game that caught everyone’s attention was March 16 against LSU, when Stratton and Gausman combined for one of the best pitching duels of the college season. Each went 8 ⅔ innings and allowed one run on four hits. Stratton struck out 17 while Gausman fanned 11.
Giants scouts were watching, and it led to a first-round selection at 20th overall and a $1.85 million signing bonus for the junior.
In his first full season in the minor leagues, Stratton has recorded a 3.39 ERA with 78 strikeouts to 23 walks in 71 ⅔ innings. While he hasn’t blown Low-A hitters away, he has shown flashes of the pitcher the Giants saw in March 2012.
“He’s a competitor,” GreenJackets pitching coach Steve Kline said. “He’s a smart pitcher, he understands the game very well and he’s a solid, all-around good person. Nothing real flashy, he just does his job and is learning how to pitch like a young kid is. .”
He shows the ability to set hitters up with fastballs before changing eye levels and speeds with breaking pitches and a changeup.
“He reads hitters very well,” Kline said. “That’s one good thing he’s remarkable at is reading hitters. He’s got two good fastballs that he can locate, but he reads hitters and what they’re trying to do, and he understands the game.”
Kline said Stratton’s mechanics have remained solid with a heavier workload. The biggest key, is commanding his fastball early in the count in order to utilize his strengths.
“The slider feels good, and the changeup feels good,” Stratton said. “I just need to work on fastball command and everything will be a lot easier.”
Stratton follows directly in the footsteps of Zack Wheeler, the last pitcher the Giants picked in the first round, in 2009. On a broader scale, he follows the footsteps of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, all first-round picks for the Giants.
If history is any indication, Stratton has a bright future beyond Augusta.