DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Marcus Stroman is getting his first experience of the big league lifestyle this spring, but it was actually last fall when his development went to the next level.
Stroman was handpicked by the Blue Jays organization to take part in the Arizona Fall League with the Salt River Rafters. The six-week stint provided Stroman with an opportunity to build up more innings and also rub shoulders with some of the best prospects in the game.
There's a long list of Major Leaguers who have graduated from the AFL program, and for Stroman it was another sign that his career is going down the right path.
"It was definitely a privilege," said Stroman, who was taken in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. "When we were out there, Ryan Howard was being inducted into the Hall of Fame for the Fall League. All of the guys that have played there and the numbers they have of the guys playing in the big leagues the following year are pretty crazy.
"It's definitely an honor, shows how much the organization thinks of you and a really great way to end the year."
The timing of Stroman's stint with Salt River was particularly important because there's a chance this will be the year he breaks into the Majors. Stroman is competing for a spot in Toronto's rotation, but the only way he could have been a realistic contender was if his innings limit increased.
Stroman threw 111 2/3 innings for Double-A New Hampshire in 2013, but there was a need for more work. He threw an additional 11 2/3 innings in the fall, which further built his arm strength and prepared him for an extended workload this season. The Blue Jays typically don't like to increase a pitcher's workload by more than 20 percent or 30 percent from one season to the next.
That should put Stroman in the 145- to 160-inning range for 2014. If he does start the season in the Minors, there also will be an ability to ease him into the season and provide enough of an innings cushion to finish strong.
The Fall League also provided Stroman with an opportunity to continue refining his changeup. It has been a work in progress over the past year and will be instrumental in his success at the next level. He already possesses an overpowering fastball and a wipeout slider; the changeup is the next key for success.
"Even though I was throwing out of the bullpen, I was still pitching like a starter," said Stroman, who allowed four runs while striking out 13 in the AFL. "I knew I was going to be a starter the following year, so I threw my changeup a lot. Even out of the bullpen, I was using all four pitches, which people don't usually do out of the 'pen.
"They usually just throw two pitches, but I felt like I made huge strides out there in locating my changeup, being able to throw it in hitters' counts. I felt like I made a lot of strides out there."
Stroman made his spring debut on Saturday afternoon, against the Orioles, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out three. The outing was far from perfect, but the results this early in camp aren't really that important, and it's more about finding a rhythm and peaking at the right time.
It would appear as though Stroman is somewhat of a long shot to make the rotation, but there seems to be very few doubts that his time will come at some point this season. He has just two years of Minor League experience under his belt, and although most pitchers require more, that might not necessarily apply in this case.
"There's not many guys that have more confidence than Stroman, and he's good," manager John Gibbons said. "You always weigh that in the back of your mind -- if you rush him and he falters, what will it do to him? But I think he has the personality where that won't even be a factor."