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Prospect Retrospective: Pat Strange

What ever happened to Pat Strange?

Pat Strange...
Pat Strange

Born August 23rd, 1980 in Springfield, Massachusetts, Pat Strange grew up idolizing his older brother, Don. Thirteen years younger, Pat watched his brother get signed by the Atlanta Braves and progress through their minor league system. By the time Pat started high school, his brother had moved on to the Kansas City Royals and then the Baltimore Orioles, eventually accepting that he would never make it to the major leagues. Unlike Don, Pat was extraordinarily gifted, armed with a fastball that sat in the low-to-mid-90s. Playing for Springfield Central High School, he won the Gatorade Player of the Year Award in back-to-back years in 1997 and 1998, his junior years, making him only player in Massachusetts state history to ever win the award twice. A possible first-round draft candidate, Strange velocity inexplicably fell over the course of his senior year, leading him to drop out of first round consideration. He did not fall very far though, as the Mets selected him with their second-round selection in the 1998 MLB Draft, the 64th player selected overall. The two sides negotiated for roughly two months before agreeing on a $500,000 signing bonus.

Just 17-year-old, he was assigned to the GCL Mets. Making 4 starts, he posted a 1.42 ERA in 19.0 innings, allowing 18 hits, walking 7, and striking out 19. The Mets were aggressive in his 1999 assignment, skipping him over the Kingsport Mets and the Pittsfield Mets and sending him to the Capital City Bombers, their Low-A affiliate. Though three-years younger than league average, Strange carved up the South Atlantic League like they were his competition back at Springfield Central High School. In 154.0 innings, he posted a 2.63 ERA, allowing 138 hits, walking 29, and striking out 113. Not only did he have the lowest on the team in ERA among qualified starters, but he was eighth in the entire South Atlantic League among qualified pitchers.

It was in 1999 that Pat Strange met a man who would go on to have a profound impact on the rest of his life: Brian Cole.

On the surface, they seemed like a pair of teammates who wouldn’t have many shared interests. “If you look at them, they were as diverse as can be,’’ said Jim Duquette, the Mets’ assistant general manager at the time. “Pat is from the Northeast and Brian is from the Deep South. Pat is 6’5” and Brian was 5’9”. That’s the one thing about baseball. We have a lot more things in common than different.” Bonded over baseball, the two became very close friends, regularly partaking in the shenanigans close friends pull on one another. “I remember telling him to hit the ball on the ground and use his speed,” Strange told Sports Illustrated, reminiscing about his friend. “I believe his response was, ‘Shut the f--- up and worry about throwing strikes.’”

The Mets promoted him to Strange for the 2000 season and while he experienced a modicum of adversity for the first time in his professional career, his performance in the Florida State League was still far better than most 19-year-olds, as he posted a 3.58 ERA in 88.0 innings with 78 hits, 32 walks, and 77 strikeouts. He was promoted to the Binghamton Mets midseason, and while he was nowhere near as successful as he had been with Capital City or St. Lucie, his performance was roughly league average, posting a 4.55 ERA in 88.0 innings, allowing 62 hits, walking 30, and striking out 36. All in all, in High-A and Double-A, the right-hander posted a 3.96 ERA in 143.1 innings, allowing 140 hits, walking 62, and striking out 113. His performance in 2000 won him the Mets’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award, mentions on Mets’ top prospect lists, and discussion as one of the best prospects in baseball.

Along with his friend Cole, who had also been promoted from St. Lucie mid-season, Strange returned to Binghamton to start the 2001 season. Unlike his friend, Pat Strange made it to Binghamton. Days before the 2001 season began, Brian Cole tragically died in a car accident. “It crushed my life,” Strange said of his friend’s passing.

After traveling to Meridian, Mississippi to help lay his friend to his eternal rest, the right-hander headed north to join the Binghamton Mets. He spent the majority of the 2001 season there, eventually getting a promotion to the Norfolk Tides at the end of the year for one single start. All in all, he posted a 4.69 ERA in 159.1 innings, allowing 175 hits, walking 53, and striking out 112. He broke his ankle in the Arizona Fall League, but the injury healed properly and did not hinder his professional development.

Invited to big league spring training camp, he was optioned down to the Tides to start the 2002 season and spent the majority of the season in Triple-A. Thanks to a mechanical adjustment that saw him raise his arm angle, the 21-year-old Strange saw more success in Norfolk that year than he had in Binghamton the prior two, posting a 3.82 ERA in 165.0 innings, allowing 165 hits, walking 59, and striking out 109. That September, the Mets called him up to the major leagues for a cup of coffee. Appearing in 5 games, all out of the bullpen, Strange posted a 1.13 ERA in 8.0 innings, allowing 6 hits, walking 1, and striking out 4.

That winter, the right-hander had surgery to remove bone chips from his right-elbow. He returned to the mound in time to compete for one of two potential spots in the Mets’ starting rotation in 2003 during spring training but was outpitched by Mike Bacsik and Jae Seo and optioned back to Triple-A to begin the season. He spent roughly a month in Norfolk before the Mets called him up. Unlike his September cup of coffee in 2002, Strange was not particular effective, allowing 11 earned runs in 6 relief appearances, a 11.00 ERA in 9.0 innings pitched. He was optioned back down to Triple-A shortly after outing on June 5- ironically his best outing of the year, where he pitched four scoreless innings against the Brewers- and spent the rest of the season in Norfolk. In 89.1 innings with the Tides, Strange posted a bloated 5.74 ERA, allowing 111 hits, walking 44, and striking out 64.

Things did not improve for the right-hander in 2004. Battling arm problems for the entire year, Strange posted a 5.25 ERA in 135.1 innings, all with the Tides, allowing 152 hits, walking 53, and striking out 88. Granted free agency that winter, the 23-year-old signed with the Minnesota Twins, who invited him to spring training. The arm issues that plagued him throughout the 2004 season continued into 2005, prompting him to undergo surgery in his right elbow to remove more bone spurs. The Twins released him, and Strange would end up retiring from baseball not long after, as the arm issues persisted even after the second bone spur surgery.

After years away from the game, Strange recently returned, serving as pitching coach with the Westfield High School Starfires and the Western Mass Cardinals for the 2019 season. The Cardinals made something of a splash during the Perfect Game 16u BCS National Championship, as they seemed to come out of nowhere to beat more widely recognized steams, going 7-3-0 in the tournament. One impetus for Strange coaching was the fact that his son, Brian Cole Strange, was himself a right-handed pitcher and that he knew his son, and other players on the team, deserved national recognition. “I knew we would be competitive,” Strange said of his team. “We may not be as talented as some of the power programs down here but I’ve got a tough of kids; they can play ball. They’re not all going to ‘wow’ you with their talent but they’re tough kids and they’ve been playing high-level baseball since they were five years old. They’re not going to run away from anybody…I would say we have a handful of guys who definitely could play some college ball and I think we have some fringe D-I guys in there. That’s why we’re here, to see how they fare against the guys who are going to these big schools and hopefully shine out and make a name for some of them.”

His son, Brian Cole Strange, was indeed named after his deceased friend. Born roughly a year after the tragic accident, Pat Strange hoped that by giving his son Brian’s name that he would strive to live the values that Brian stood for. “I guess what we ended up playing, two and a half years, was not an enormous amount of time,’’ Strange said of his friend. ‘’Besides the talent and a great guy on the field, he just wanted to win all the time. That’s what I loved about him. No matter if he was 3 for 3 or 0 for 4, if the game was on the line, he wanted badly to win the game. That’s just something I strive for in my life and something I hope my son strives for as well.’’

Had injuries not derailed his career, there is a very good chance that Strange would have been able to carve out a niche in the major leagues; it is not inconceivable to think that he could still be pitching today.

The right-hander had a maximum-effort delivery and high-effort arm action that caused him to sometimes lose his release point earlier in his career, but a raise in his arm slot from low-three-quarters to three-quarters corrected that. He was generally was able to command all of his pitches, but the injuries later in his career eventually hurt his ability to do so. While the elbow problems sapped his command, they did not diminish his fastball velocity. Even in his final years in organized baseball, his sinker still sat in the 91-94 MPH range that got him noticed on the fields of Springfield Central High.

Complementing his fastball was a changeup and slider, the former of which was his best. Generally graded as an above-average-to-plus pitch, Strange threw two variations of the pitch, a slower, more traditional changeup and a faster version that featured more extreme fade and tumble. His slider was more of a fringe-average pitch, but gave him a pitch to change batters’ eye levels. Towards the end of his career, he also added a curveball to his repertoire to do the same.

A bulldog on the mound, Strange had the physical build and demeanor to succeed. At 6’5”, 245-pounds, he ate up innings in the minors, throwing 150+ innings in every season after his professional debut save one. When he was healthy and on the mound, coaches noted that he did not want to leave; according to long-time Daytona Cubs hitting coach Richie Zisk, Strange was “king of the throne out there” on the mound and that “you’re not going to knock him off” when he was on top of his game.