Stratton Taking Giants Step To Big Leagues

He was cool, calm, and controlled on the mound all season. So don't expect Chris Stratton to go all crazy celebrating his first-round draft selection tonight. "It will just be with family and friends," Stratton said after being tabbed by San Francisco. "It's just a great time in my life, and I have to thank God for all He's given me."

The Good Lord did give Stratton a strong right arm. But it took a lot of labor by the young man himself, as well as steady development from youth ball in Tupelo to three years of SEC seasoning at Mississippi State, to make Janet and Lee's boy one of the nation's elite 2012 prospects. Just after 8:00 central, Stratton heard the commissioner call his name as the #20 overall selection.

Was he anxious as the first round wound on? Not at all.

"You can't be nervous. It's life, baseball is a game. And just the fact anybody would draft me in the first round is a blessing in itself."

The blessing equally falls to San Francisco's. The Giants benefited by their 19 preceding peers going after other sorts of players, and grabbed the SEC's Pitcher of the Year. Stratton was not surprised, either, though it was very late in the season that he was first contacted by an organization official. "I talked to Hugh Walker, met with him at the SEC Tournament. He was an awesome guy, I enjoyed spending time with him."

That contact was entirely legal of course. As is Stratton going ahead tonight and naming his agent, signaling that his Mississippi State career is officially done. Former Diamond Dog manager and now accomplished agent Bo McKinnis will handle Stratton's business as he does for many other Bulldogs who have or are still playing professionally.

Stratton is the first Bulldog product drafted by the Giants in over a quarter-century. Far as he is concerned, the time is certainly right to join this organization.

"They have some outstanding starting pitchers. I mean, just the way they develop pitchers in their system is something in itself. And I'm just excited about the opportunity."

Coach Butch Thompson doesn't begrudge losing his ace right arm a year early. This is what the pitching coach wants his MSU moundsmen to do, after all. "I'm a Giants fan now!" Thompson quipped.

"I just think it's a culmination of all his hard work. Being such a great young man, they're getting a well-round person who is going to work extremely hard for them every day. Hopefully it's a great match for both." There seems no reason this arrangement ought not work, either. In fact if history is any indicator Stratton might well be on a fast track. The last five Diamond Dog pitchers drafted in first rounds all ultimately worked their way onto a Major League mound.

Stratton ought to make it six-straight, Thompson believes.

"I don't think there's a lot of revamping you have to do with Chris. His delivery is smooth and repeatable, to use all the clichés. His arsenal is basically mature with a four-seam, a two-seam, the fastball repertoire they want to see. He has the ability to throw a very good curveball, he's developed a slider." Besides, the pitching coach added, the typical SEC batting order has "4.5 lefties!" so Stratton has lots of experience working all sides of the plate at a high level.

Stratton posted an 11-2 record this junior season with a 2.38 earned run average. His three-year career produced 21 victories, just two wins short of cracking the program top-ten, and he started 40 of 48 appearances. But after opening all 14 of his freshman-year games, and 14 more as a sophomore, Stratton went to relief work late in 2011 after two rough outings.

He began this season in long-relief role as well with four long stints out of the bullpen, all earning victories. That put him back in the rotation just in time for SEC season and Stratton ran off five more wins as a starter before dropping the May 11 decision at Florida.

He won two more decisions in the scheduled season and even capped it with his first and only save, tossing five pitches against Vanderbilt to seal State's SEC Tournament championship. Such feats were why Stratton was awarded the Boo Ferris Trophy as the top college ballplayer in Mississippi.

For the year Stratton had 127 strikeouts, the sixth-best season total ever by a Bulldog, in 109.2 innings. He struck out 279 in the career, finishing third on the MSU chart behind only big-league Bulldogs Eric DuBose and Jeff Brantley.

One twist to the Stratton story is that most pitchers who develop into first-round calls in college were also drafted back in high school. He was not, though as an elite prep prospect scouts knew the Tupelo High star's name very well.

"Out of high school I had a few people looking at me, but me and my Dad had already decided the best thing for me to do was go to college. And no doubt, going to Mississippi State is the best idea I could have had, just growing as a player and working with the coaches we had." As part of Coach John Cohen's first signing class in 2009, Stratton definitely did his part over three seasons reviving Bulldog baseball.

Stratton also gives thanks to his summer baseball coach, former top-round draftee Kirk Pressley. The pair were in contact before the draft today, too. "He asked if I needed anything. I owe a lot to that man."

"We're extremely proud of Chris, he's very deserving," Cohen said. "He's a very humble young man who has worked extremely hard. It's a great fit for him, I know his family and his Mississippi State family are excited. We just look forward to Chris hopefully becoming a big-leaguer with the Giants."

First round finished, the draft has 49 more rounds divided over Tuesday and Wednesday. Stratton is not the only underclassman on this roster who has been scouted this past season. Then there is the key recruiting class which fills in needs, particularly offensive, for 2013.

So as much as the head coach cheered Monday evening, the next two days might be tense at times.

"Obviously we have some signees we're concerned about. A couple of underclassmen we're going to keep an eye on. We had our individual meetings today, we have more tomorrow and we go through it case for case. But for now we feel pretty good about the position we're in with all the kids."

Bulldogs drafted in the first round, and their selection number are: 1966 OF/1b Del Unser #18 Senators; 1985 1B Will Clark #2 San Francisco, OF Rafael Palmeiro #22 Chicago Cubs; 1992 LHP B.J. Wallace #3 Montreal, 1993 RHP Jay Powell #19 Baltimore; 1994 RHP Carlton Loewer #23 Philadelphia; 1997 LHP Eric DuBose #21 Oakland; 1999 RHP Matt Ginter #22 Chicago White Sox; 2003 LHP Paul Maholm #8 Pittsburgh; 2007 C Ed Easley #61 in ‘sandwich' round Arizona; 2012 RHP Chris Stratton #20 San Francisco.

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