The Young Studs of the AL East

The Blue Jays were fresh off signing Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin in the offseason and everything looked to be rolling for the team when Marcus Stroman tore his left ACL in a bunting drill during Spring Training. It was just another routine play but a rare freak incident sidelined Marcus Stroman for majority of the season. A legendary comeback later and Marcus Stroman was starting Game 2 of the ALDS against the Rangers to a packed crowd at the Rogers Centre.

What happened in between usually would be irrelevant at this point but it speaks volumes to who exactly the young kid wearing number 6 is. Marcus Stroman was coming off an impressive rookie season where he pitched to a 3.29 ERA and was looking to further prove himself for a full season. Expectations were certainly running high and Marcus Stroman was prepared to be a big part of a potential run at the postseason after over 20 years.

It’s not often where a pitcher returns 6 months after tearing his ACL. In fact it is very rare.

As much as Marcus Stroman wanted to be competing with his teammates and cheering them on, he took to Duke University to heal and start his rehab treatments. It was a long and enduring process but Stroman was ready to do whatever it took to make it back for September baseball. He pushed himself to new heights throughout this process and even after all the long tiring days of rehab, he was able to complete his degree.

So what did this tell us about Marcus Stroman? Stroman recognized that coming back from such an injury would be a challenge, but one that he was willing to fight for. Stroman finally got a taste of the majors and was the Jays best pitcher at the end of his rookie season. His attitude was more than just winning but something more fierce and hesitant. Stroman wanted to prove to everyone that he was the real deal. It was the legendary comeback that made his performance at the end of the season even sweeter.

Chris Archer has been tremendous ever since he became a full time starter in 2013 for the Tampa Bay Rays. In fact ever since, Archer has improved his innings pitched and strikeouts, to numbers that are as good as some of the top pitchers in the majors. Archer doesn’t have a huge arsenal of pitches like Stroman but his hard slider compliments his fastball and changeup and leads to lot of his strikeouts. How hard is his slider? Well last season, Archer’s slider went from an average of 87mph in April to 89mph in June. Against righties, Archer likes to throw his slider away and outside to batters and he does the exact opposite against lefties, low and inside.

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Chris Archer tendencies vs. Right Handed Batters (Left) and vs. Left Handed Batters (Right)

You see Marcus Stroman and Chris Archer both come from good roots in life. At the age of 20, Marcus Stroman lost his grandmother who was his biggest supporter. She would try and come to every game he played in high school and when she fought her battle with cancer Stroman was making his final push to make it to the majors. Unfortunately, when his big day came and Stroman made his major league debut she wasn’t watching him in the stands but rather from above. As part of his pregame ritual, Stroman looks up to the sky and says a special prayer remembering his grandma. He will be the very first to tell you everything he has been through has been for her. The New York native has a chip on his shoulder standing tall at 5’8  but always plays with heart and relishes the opportunity to be the best.

Chris Archer follows a very similar story that has the very same meaning with regards to what Chris Archer has become today. At the age of 2, Archer’s grandparents became his adoptive parents. While this could take a lot of getting used to for Archer and the people around him, Archer credits his success to many people including his grandfather Ron who was also his junior varsity coach but ultimately the man who he calls his dad. Of course his grandparents didn’t have to take on such a responsibility but they did and Archer says he owes the world to them. “I feel like I was given this blessing. Now it’s my turn to pass that on.” Archer is a clubhouse leader who has been brought up to lead by example and care for others. Archer is recognized for his initiative to make a long lasting impact in the local community as well.

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Marcus Stroman and Chris Archer also share something else quite significant. After being traded by the Cleveland Indians, Chris Archer was brought in as a rookie behind one the top aces in baseball, David Price. The two developed a very fun and loving relationship in Tampa Bay. David Price is recognized around the league for being a competitor and a true professional who respects the game. As David Price was a mentor to Chris Archer, Archer has recently followed his footsteps to become a mentor to the young pitching staff in Tampa Bay. “Hopefully, I can be that influence on some younger guys who aren’t even here yet. … He’s everything I wanted to be” Archer said. In 2015, when the Blue Jays acquired David Price at the trade deadline, Marcus Stroman not only made his miraculous comeback, but lead the rotation with David Price. Stroman felt the same way as Archer did about Price calling him a big brother and someone who was the “glue that keeps everyone going.”

It is worth noting that for many years it seemed like the Rays had developed an interesting system that allowed them to compete year after year. After developing James Shields through their system, James Shields became the ace of their rotation and had his best years with Tampa Bay before being traded. It was in this trade, where the Rays acquired Will Myers and Jake Odorrizi. Myers had a promising stint is his first season with the Rays but dealt with injury issues that ultimately landed him in San Diego two years later. That trade brought back Steven Souza Jr. whom along with Odorrizi are both impact players going into the 2016 season. David Price’s career with Tampa Bay is well documented including an appearance in the 2008 ALCS. When it was all said and done, the Rays who weren’t going to be competing for the AL East title, had an opportunity to trade Price with two years left on his contract and a chance to get a good haul of prospects in return and so they did. Drew Smyly who was also a part of that deal is another big impact player going into this season. That is not to suggest that the Rays will trade Archer, but the Rays continue to develop and build the strongest rotations in baseball and with pitching always being in high demand you never know if Rays will be contenders or sellers at the deadline.

Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman are great friends themselves away from the game of baseball. While they might be the rising stars who compete for the same title, Stroman and Archer have been known for exchanging Snapchats over their stories mocking each other to hit the gym and train hard early in the mornings.

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Marcus Stroman teases Chris Archer on Snapchat

In fact, the two are arguably the best social media personalities in the MLB. Marcus Stroman who lives by the motto Height Doesn’t Measure Heart has been a true inspiration to baseball fans worldwide and fans got to see exactly his ACL comeback first hand. Along with that Marcus Stroman often shares his passion for hip hop music in his car rides to the gym or the ball park. Archer on the other hand takes a different approach to his social media using a more intelligent and wise way to connect with his fans that is still interactive. He shares funny insight about his teammates and even shares a couple good books to read here and there. It was Archer who beat out Stroman to win the 2015 Social Media Personality Award.

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Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman hang out during Game 5 of the World Series in New York

When these two young kids are on their game they can be virtually unstoppable. Chris Archer made a very strong case for CY Young last season at the age of 26. In fact, Archer became the first pitcher to have three straight starts with double-digit strikeouts and no walks in the last 100 years. With a great strikeout to walk ratio and a ERA just above 3 Chris Archer has become the face of a rotation that continues to be one of the most underrated in the majors. Going into the 2016 season, Chris Archer feels like the Rays are just as capable to contend as anyone else. Despite losing a couple of their strong arms in their bullpen, the Rays have certainly improved offensively with the addition of power hitting outfielder Corey Dickerson. The Rays can be the real underdog team if their rotation stays healthy and if Archer continues to pitch like an CY Young candidate, the Rays will be giving the big dogs of the AL East a run for their money.

Marcus Stroman is entering the 2016 season as the ace of the Blue Jays rotation. After a great end to the 2015 season that featured a very impressive postseason, Marcus Stroman is looking to build on his success. With the Jays losing David Price to free agency in the offseason, the Jays rotation may not look as strong on paper but don’t tell this to Marcus Stroman. A full season of Marcus Stroman to go along with the best lineup in baseball and lock down defence means the Blue Jays are poised for another run at the World Series. In fact the all time great, Pedro Martinez went as far as to say that Stroman reminded him of a younger Pedro, but one who has the potential to be even better.

Chris Archer has had the Blue Jays number his whole career but what happens when these two young studs faceoff? Well let’s just say the season opener on April 3rd is going to be something to watch.

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ADAM VIRANI

APRIL 3RD, 2016

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