Drew Strotman’s foray into pitching started innocently enough. When Homestead High’s junior-varsity baseball team faced an arms shortage near the end of his sophomore season, the first-year coaching staff asked: “Who can pitch?”
Strotman – who hadn’t taken the mound since Little League – didn’t consider volunteering until a teammate did.
“Another guy said he could pitch, and I said, ‘No, no,’” Strotman recalled. “That’s when I decided to give it a shot. I was pretty good and focused on it more.”
Strotman evolved into the Mustangs’ ace on varsity the next season and now – four years later – he’s gone pro. The Tampa Bay Rays selected him in the fourth round of Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft last month, shortly after his junior season at St. Mary’s College.
“We had an idea it might be around the fourth round,” said Strotman, the 109th pick overall. “But I tried not to have too many expectations; the draft process is pretty hectic, and you never know what will happen. I was happy to have my name called when it did.”
A week later, the Rays flew Strotman to St. Petersburg, Fla., where he signed his contract after passing an exhaustive medical exam that included “14 X-rays and a few MRIs,” he said. Strotman then took a seat at Tropicana Field to watch his new favorite team play the Cincinnati Reds.
Strotman hopes to pitch there one day. But first, he has to work his way up the minor-league ladder. The Rays assigned him to the Hudson Valley Renegades, part of a Class A Short Season league.
Strotman lives with a host family approximately a mile from where the Renegades play: the 4,500-seat Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
“My first off day was miserable – I don’t have a car here, and I didn’t have anything to do,” said the 20-year-old Strotman, who joined the team in late June. “I just wanted to be at the field playing baseball.”
Strotman made his professional debut June 29, pitching three innings in relief. He took the loss – and fell to 0-2 after another three-inning stint a few days later – but wasn’t discouraged.
“Just the way baseball goes sometimes,” said the 6-foot-3, 195-pound righty. “(There are) definitely some things to improve upon, but (I’m) feeling good.”
Strotman added that his fastball “has gotten upward of 98 mph, so that’s a positive, but (my) off-speed pitches need some work. (I’m) adjusting to the new way of going about the game.”
The transition from college – where Strotman went 6-1 last season and led St. Mary’s with 75 strikeouts – to the pros takes time.
“In college, you go to class, spend a few hours at the field and give it all you got,” Strotman said. “Here, you’re at the field seven or eight hours a day, and it’s all about development and making sure you don’t overdo it and get hurt.”
While Strotman hopes to rise rapidly through the minors, he trusts that the Rays will know when he’s ready for the next level.
“They see me, and I see me, as a future big-leaguer – I want to get to that point,” he said. “But I’ll just take it as I go, and when they feel I’m ready for advancements, they’ll make those decisions.”
In the meantime, Strotman is focused on what he can control.
“I’m taking it one day at a time and just want to get better,” he said. “My goal every day is to get better, so I can be a big-leaguer.”
As a kid growing up in Sunnyvale, Strotman didn’t think that was possible. But he always loved the game, thanks largely to his father.
“I appreciate how he kept it fun,” Strotman said of dad Scot, who grew up in south Los Altos and played tennis and basketball at Homestead. “There was not a lot of pressure or expectations to be a big-time athlete.”
Before finding success as a pitcher five years ago, Strotman described himself as a “mediocre at best” catcher and corner infielder.
Now he’s living the dream of being a professional ballplayer.
“That’s even more fun,” Strotman said of going pro. “Every day, there’s more to learn and plenty of ways to get better.”