Chris Stratton has raised his game to a new level, and his coaches knew it would happen at some point. In today's Journal, you can read about the junior right-hander's development as a pitcher and what keeps him composed throughout a dominant season (CLICK HERE).
Stratton is 8-0 with a 2.39 ERA entering tonight's game at Alabama. He's got 95 strikeouts, and all of his other numbers tell a good part of the story. He looks like first-round material for this year's MLB Draft, making good on what coach John Cohen saw last summer in the Cape Cod League.
In October, Cohen told me, "He has emerged as a real prospect. He is somebody that if he can take his game to the next level, he can be as good as he wants to be."
After developing a strong four-pitch repertoire – Cohen said each of Stratton's four pitches is a "power pitch" – Stratton began the year in the bullpen. He threw quite well and reveled in being able to come in a game and cut loose for just a few innings. Then Ben Bracewell hurt his elbow, and Stratton moved into the Friday starter's role.
Would he have gotten into the rotation had Bracewell not been injured? Probably.
"We were just waiting to see what his confidence level was going to be like in games," Cohen said. "Butch (Thompson) was really smart to start him out of the pen this year and have it evolve that way."
Confidence is the glue that holds it all together. Stratton realized during Cape Cod play that he could get quality guys out, and he finally adopted a more aggressive approach. With four pitches he feels comfortable using at most any time, Stratton has no reason to doubt himself as he often did his first two years at State.
And he loves the atmosphere of an SEC Friday night and going against other top pitchers. He's faced off this season against LSU's Kevin Gausman, Arkansas' D.J. Baxendale and South Carolina's Michael Roth.
"I think I'd be lying if I didn't think he could do this," said Thompson, the pitching coach. "Because as you at the opportunities he got as a freshman and a sophomore, and the Friday nights he has thrown, we were kind hoping he'd fall into that, get that momentum going earlier. He's always had that chance. We've always seen that."
Now pro scouts are seeing it, and Stratton is getting a lot of looks from Major League teams. He's politely declined to speak with scouts for now, but he's been speaking with a lot of reporters. He doesn't mind all the extra attention.
"It's not necessarily a challenge. It's a blessing," he said. "It hasn't really been that big of a deal, because I had coverage in high school and whatnot. I'm just going out there and having fun, that's all."