Local baseball coaches had heard Tucker Stroup’s pitching velocity was up heading into this season.
But just how much stronger the Timberline High School senior’s arm was? That was a bit of a shock.
“He was really impressive,” Yelm coach Brady Hoover said. “His first league start was against us, and I think he was throwing 85-89 mph the whole game — on a cold night.”
Stroup shut out Yelm in his Class 3A South Sound Conference opener. He did the same to Capital this season, on his way to becoming the league’s most valuable player.
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With three pitches — a two-seam fastball, a curveball and a change-up — he consistently tore apart opposing offenses.
“He gets on the bump and dices you up,” Capital coach Jesse Elam said.
Stroup was relentless on the mound this season, finishing with a 1.12 ERA, and leading the Blazers to the 3A state playoffs.
He was just as dangerous at the plate, posting a .457 batting average, which is why he’s The Olympian’s 2017 All-Area player of the year.
“He was the toughest kid we saw all year, as far as spotting his fastball, and throwing any pitch in any count,” Elam said. “You put him at the plate, and he smacks it there, too.”
Stroup hit a pair of home runs against North Thurston, finishing with three overall. He had 11 extra-base hits, and finished with 22 RBIs.
“When you talk about a most valuable player, he would be the most valuable player to a team,” Timberline coach Mark Rubadue said.
Rubadue said Stroup’s success is directly connected to how much he’s put in the past year.
Last year, Stroup was the No. 3 pitcher in the rotation behind two seniors. He was primarily an infielder, but then Austin Whalen and Lucas Reid graduated.
“That’s when I started working harder to become a pitcher,” Stroup said. “I started to think, if I did make it in baseball, it would be with my arm.”
Stroup talked to former Timberline standout pitcher, Matt Mercer, who now pitches at the University of Oregon, last summer.
Mercer told Stroup about a conditioning program called DriveLine he’d used to aid in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and the positive results it produced.
Stroup started using the program to strengthen his arm.
“He really was willing to do the work,” said Rubadue, who teaches Stroup in his fourth-period strength and conditioning class. “He created a big difference in one year.”
Stroup estimates he was throwing 82-83 mph last summer. In Pasco last weekend, in a 3A state-playoff game, he was clocked at 90 mph.
“A huge increase in velocity,” Stroup said. “Not only that, but the amount of pitches I could throw (increased).”
He’s kept with the program, which involves a series of dynamic lifts in the weight room, and practicing with weighted balls.
And, while watching weight-lifting videos last summer, he came across a video about meal prep. Now, two or three meals a day, he eats chicken, rice and broccoli.
“What I’ve seen with my body, the change, is what motivates me to keep doing it,” Stroup said.
Stroup said he thinks a big part of of his pitching improvement this season — and the muscle he’s gained — is a tribute to his conditioning program, and eating right.
“If you’re willing to do the work in the weight room, do an arm strength program, and eat the way he does, you’re going to be able to do whatever you want,” Rubadue said.
Stroup pitched 62 1/3 innings this season, and struck out 94 batters. He posted a 7-2 record, and consistently helped Timberline compete with some of the top programs in the South Sound.
“When you’ve got a guy who is the most dominant pitcher in the whole area, it just elevates the whole team,” Hoover said. “It’s a nice boost.”
Stroup is committed to play at Pierce College next season, and said his decision was driven by the staff of pitching coaches the Raiders have.
“I think as an individual developing as a pitcher, it would be smart for me to be around four sets of eyes to see what I’m doing right, and doing wrong,” Stroup said.
Following college? Stroup said he’d be ready to pack his bags if a big opportunity came along.
“I think that’s everyone’s dream,” he said. “It’s definitely a big part of my motivation.”