Giants Add Late Bloomer In Stratton

SAN FRANCISCO—For the first time since they made the landmark decision to draft Will Clark in 1985, the Giants spent a first-round pick on a player from Mississippi State.

They used the 20th overall selection to take Chris Stratton, a righthander with strikeout stuff and a four-pitch mix that should suit him well as a starting pitcher.

Stratton, who turns 22 in August, is a late bloomer from Tupelo who wasn't drafted out of high school but matured to turn himself from a bullpen arm to the best pitcher in the SEC. The 6-foot-2, 197-pounder impressed Giants scouts when he pitched for Harwich in the Cape Cod League and kept adding to his stock with a solid junior season.

He was the SEC pitcher of the year after posting an 11-2, 2.38 record with 127 strikeouts in 109 innings for the Bulldogs.

He struck out 17 in a start at LSU.

"I know," said Giants scouting director John Barr. "I was there."

Stratton throws in the 91-93 mph range and can touch 95 mph. Barr said he was thrilled—and maybe a little surprised—that Stratton was available when it was the Giants' turn to select.

"We weren't sure how the board was going to pan out, or where some of the tougher signs might be taken," Barr said. "To have Chris Stratton at 20, we were very happy about that."

Stratton was excited, too. He said his aunt and uncle live in San Francisco. Asked if they were within the city limits, he said, "I don't know, but my uncle bikes to the games, so he can't be too far away."

Stratton's uncle, Gaines Dobbins, is an accomplished chef who has worked at Commander's Palace in New Orleans and Boulevard in San Francisco. He's currently the executive chef at Eureka, in the Castro.

"I just know he makes some pretty good food," Stratton said.

The Giants sure know how to dish up starting pitchers, although their inventory is low at the moment—especially after they parted with the Next Big Thing, Zack Wheeler, to get Carlos Beltran from the Mets last July.

Barr said the Wheeler trade wasn't a factor in the decision to draft a starting pitcher who could move quickly.

"No," said Barr, asked whether organizational inventory affected the pick. "Are we always mindful of it? We're mindful of trying to add value to this organization."

Barr said the Giants' board was mixed.

"We weren't sure it would be a pitcher," he said.

Baseball America ranked Stratton as the 18th best player in the draft. His college career is over; the Bulldogs were eliminated last weekend in the College World Series regionals. He's the highest Mississippi State player to be drafted since 2003, when the Pittsburgh Pirates took left-hander Paul Maholm with the eighth overall choice.

Stratton, the first college pitcher taken by the Giants in the first round since Tim Lincecum in 2007, said he was honored to join an organization with strong arms like Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain.

"That's the kind of organization I want to be a part of—one that focuses on pitching," Stratton said. "Hopefully I'll be able to learn from them, pick up on some of the things they do. Because they have a great group, for sure."

Stratton, whose agent is Bo McKinnis, said he looked forward to beginning negotiations right away. He said he met Clark and former pitcher Jeff Brantley when they came to Mississippi State games this season.

"Just to be mentioned with those guys is unreal to me, just an honor," Stratton said.

Barr credited area scout Hugh Walker with providing thorough reports on Stratton all year long. He said he was encouraged that one report would highlight a plus curveball, while the next would provide positive marks on his slider. His fastball has late, tailing movement that he should be able to use to jam hitters and induce ground balls.

There was no need to ask Clark's opinion of the pick.

"We got a Mississippi State guy," said Barr, "so I know Will must be happy."