About year ago, San Francisco Giants pitcher Chris Stratton could have changed his name to “And Chris Stratton.”
That’s because any discussion about prospects in the Giants system would end with “…. and Chris Stratton.” You know, it would go like “Christian Arroyo, Tyler Beede, Chris Shaw, etc. … and Chris Stratton.”
Stratton’s progression up the Giants’ farm system made him sort of an afterthought. Not a flop as a former first-round draft pick. Just an afterthought.
He could have been best described in a report on him by minorleaguebaseball.com in April of 2017.
“There’s nothing spectacular about Stratton. He has four adequate pitches and he throws strikes. He won’t dominate, but he is versatile, a good 11th man on a staff for mop up and long relief work who can make some starts if necessary.”
Not a glowing report for player who was taken with the 20th pick of the 2012 draft as an All-American out of Mississippi State. But you’d struggle to find many scouts or Giants fans who would disagree with that assessment.
That’s because his numbers in minors were just kind of OK. Not terrible, but not great. Just OK.
In six minor-league seasons, Stratton was 38-34 with a 4.07 ERA in 111 starts and 116 games.
There was a glimmer of hope in 2016 that Stratton might actually develop into the pitcher the Giants hoped he’d become when they picked him in 2012.
That season, he went 12-6 with 3.87 ERA in 20 starts for Triple-A Sacramento. Not glowing numbers, but pretty solid in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Stratton got his first major-league call in 2016, when he had a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings of relief.
But then in 2017, his Triple-A number got very “meh” again — 4-5 with 5.11 ERA in 15 starts. He was 26 years and starting to run out of opportunities with the Giants.
But then last July, the Giants needed to call up a pitcher who could give them innings, and their top pitching prospects in Sacramento — Tyler Beede and Joan Gregorio — were on the DL. So Stratton got the call, as he was on the 40-man roster.
He made a spot start against Detroit and a four-inning relief appearance later in July against the Pirates.
After coming off a brief DL stint, he was put into the rotation in August and seized the opportunity.
He made nine starts in the last two months season, going 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 43 strikeouts, 20 walks in 44.2 innings. He had three scoreless outings of 6+ innings.
That thrusted him into competition for a spot in the rotation heading into this spring. Injuries to Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija locked Stratton into the rotation, but he probably would have made the rotation without the injuries.
In the early part of season, Stratton has established himself as the Giants’ best starting pitcher not named Johnny Cueto.
In three starts, Stratton has a 2.60 ERA with an 0.981 WHIP.
If there is a knock on Stratton, it’s that he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, which often leads to him burning a lot pitches. This was evidenced Thursday in San Diego when the Padres’ Austin Hedges fouled off seven pitches before flying out.
Even so, Stratton pitched seven complete innings for the first time in his big-league career, holding the Padres to one hit. That win, oddly enough, was Padres pitcher Clayton Richard, who entered the game in the third as a pinch-hitter and never actually pitched in the game. According to Elias, it was the first time since 1935 that a team was limited to one hit that came from a pitcher who didn’t start the game.
Put this season’s three starts with last season’s final nine starts, Stratton 5-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 12 starts (62 innings).
That’s All-Star like.
It’s good enough to allow us to say that right now the best starting pitchers the Giants have are Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto … and Chris Stratton.
Here are the Giants’ first-round picks of the past 10 years and how they have fared.
2008 – BUSTER POSEY (No. 5 overall)
2008 – CONOR GILLASPIE (No. 37, supplemental first-round pick)
After being drafted out of Wichita State, Gillaspie got a very quick call-up in September 2008. He spent 2009 and 2010 in the minor before being recalled in June 2011. After collecting a World Series ring with the Giants in 2012 (he played six games with them), Gillaspie was traded to the White Sox, where he was their primary third baseman in 2013 and 2014. After struggling to start 2015, he was traded to the Angels, who later designated for assignment. He signed a minor-league with the Giants in the spring of 2016, and spent most of the season as a bench player. When Eduardo Nunez was hurt late in the season, Gillaspie stepped up big, delivering the decisive three-run home run in the Wild Card game against the Mets. He returned to a bench role in 2017 but was DFA’d in August, cleared waivers and played out the rest of the season at Triple-A Sacramento. He remains an unsigned free agent in 2018 at age 30.
2009 – ZACK WHEELER (No. 6 pick)
The right-handed pitcher was one of the Giants’ top prospects when he was traded to the Mets in 2011 in exchange for Carlos Beltran. He made his big-league debut in 2013, going 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA with the Mets. He went 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA in 2014 before missing all of 2015 and 2016 after Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2017 to go 3-7 with a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts. In his first start of 2018, Wheeler held the Marlins to one run on two hits over seven innings.
2010 – GARY BROWN (No. 24 pick)
The speedy center fielder out of Cal State Fullerton was the Giants’ top prospect in 2011, being selected to the All-Star Futures Game. But he never progressed much once he reached Triple-A. He was a September call-up in 2014, going 3 for 7 in seven games. At the end of spring training, he was DFA’d by the Giants, claimed by the Cardinals, DFA’d again on April 21 and claimed by the Angels. He spent the balance of 2016 in Triple-A and released by the Angels in March 2016. He played independent baseball in Maryland before retiring last July.
2011 – JOE PANIK (No. 29 pick)
Drafted as shortstop out of St. John’s with a pick that many draft experts felt was a reach in the first round, Panik made his debut with the Giants in June 2014 as they sought a replacement at second base for injured Marco Scutaro (Brandon Hicks, Dan Uggla etc.). Panik earned the job and hit .305 in 73 games and he was the starting second baseman as the Giants won the 2014 World Series. He’s been the Giants’ starting second baseman since, earning an All-Star Game selection in 2015 and a Gold Glove in 2016.
2011 – KYLE CRICK (No. 49 supplement first-round pick)
The right-handed pitcher was drafted out of high school. He became the Giants’ top prospect, per Baseball America, in 2013 and 2014. But as he moved to Double-A in 2015, he began to struggle with control. In 2017, the Giants turned him into a reliever and he made his big-league debut last June, finishing the season with 3.06 ERA in 32.3 big-league innings. In January, he was traded along with 2016 second-round pick Bryan Reynolds to the Pirates for Andrew McCutchen. He’s currently pitching for the Pirates’ Triple-A team.
2012 – CHRIS STRATTON
2013 – CHRISTIAN ARROYO (No. 25 pick)
Drafted as a shortstop out of high school, Arroyo was a surprise pick to many as he was thought to be prepared to accept a scholarship at Florida. But he signed with the Giants and made quick and solid progression through the minors. At age 21, he made his big-league debut with the Giants on April 24, 2017. He got his first career hit on April 25 against Clayton Kershawn, then hit his first home run on April 26 against Sergio Romo. But then he began to struggle. He was sent back to the minors on June 4 with a .192 average. Injuries marred his 2017 season in Triple-A. In December, he was traded to the Rays as part of a deal to acquire Evan Longoria. He’s currently playing for the Rays’ Triple-A club.
2014 – TYLER BEEDE (No. 14 pick)
A right-handed pitcher drafted out of Vanderbilt, Beede became the Giants’ top pitching prospect. In 2016, he lead the Double-A Eastern League with a 2.81 ERA and was second in strikeouts (135). After being limited by injury early in 2017, he went 6-7 with 4.79 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Sacramento. He made his big-league debut last Tuesday against the Diamondbacks, giving up two runs on three hits with five walks and three strikeouts in four innings. He is slated to make his second start on Sunday against the Padres.
2015 – PHIL BICKFORD (No. 18 pick)
The right-handed pitcher was the No. 10 overall pick in 2013 draft out of high school, but chose not to sign with the Blue Jays. The Giants picked him two years later out of the College of Southern Nevada. He was pitching in Class A in August 2016 when he was traded, along with catcher Andrew Susac, to the Brewers for reliever Will Smith. He was listed as the No. 54 prospect in baseball by MLBPipeline.com before he was hit with 50-game suspension for banned substances (not word what it was, but it may have been marijuana) and then he had surgery after breaking two bones in his hand after being hit by comebacker. That limited him to six appearances in rookie ball in 2017.
2016 – No first-round pick (surrendered to sign Jeff Samardzija)
2017 – HELIOT RAMOS (No. 19 pick)
Drawing comparisons to Yoenis Cespedes, Ramos was drafted as a 17-year-old outfielder out of Puerto Rico. He hit .348 with six homers in 138 at-bats at rookie level last year. As Baseball America’s 79th-best prospect in baseball, Ramos was coveted by other teams in offseason trade discussions. The Giants kept him and he is starting the season at low-A Augusta.