Robert Pannier features Biloxi Shuckers outfielder Troy Stokes, Jr., who has established himself as one of the top prospects in the Milwaukee Brewers system. This season he is making Biloxi a place to continue building his resume, one that will likely lead to the Major Leagues one day.
Introducing Troy Stokes, Jr.
Biloxi, Mississippi may seem like a long way from the Major Leagues. The city is beautiful, located near the Gulf Coast, and offers some of the most fantastic views a person could imagine, as well as warm temperatures year around, but no one is confusing the city of 45,000 with such minor league venues as Charlotte, Durham, or Las Vegas.
However, for one young man, the Mississippi city is a dream come true. In the eyes of Biloxi Shuckers star outfielder Troy Stokes, Jr., the city is just two steps away from fulling his ultimate goal of becoming a Major League Baseball player and, if the start of the 2018 Southern League season is any indication, those two steps may be coming sooner than even he expected.
On the Fast Track to Success
Troy Stokes, Jr. was destined to play baseball almost from the day he was born. His parents steered him away from football, wanting him to play baseball instead, and his dad began to teach his son the sport at an early age.
By the time he reached Calvert Hall High School (Baltimore, MD), he had already determined that he was going to make his future on the diamond.
“I had a passion for the sport and, then when I got older and once I got into high school, I realized that, ‘Wow, I’m really good at baseball, better than most guys.’ Even in middle school I really started thinking of it as a future of mine. Something that I wanted to really like excel in, so I took all the right steps to be where I am at right now.”
The right steps paid off, as Troy starred for Calvert Hall High School (Baltimore, MD). Troy was on the varsity team all four years, and was recognized for his greatness right away, earning All-American honorable mention as an underclassman in both 2012 and 2013.
During his junior season, pro scouts were looking at catcher Alex Murphy, who also played for Calvert Hall, and that gave him the opportunity to draw attention to himself as well. Murphy was selected by the Orioles in the 2013 MLB amateur draft, but Major League teams were not done scouting the Cardinals.
Troy made sure he gave the scouts a show in his senior season. He was named to the All-American Third Team and was a First Team All-Atlantic Region selection. He was All-State and was ranked as the top prospect in the state of Maryland his senior year.
With graduation approaching, Troy Stokes, Jr. had committed himself to the University of Maryland. However, his success his senior season and the attention he was receiving made him think that maybe he needed to reassess the pathway of his baseball career.
“Going into high school, I really wanted to play college baseball and I signed to play at the University of Maryland. Right around the beginning of my junior year I started thinking to myself and looking at everyone around me and realized that I had a good shot to get drafted and move on to the next level. The goal I’ve always had since middle school was to play in the big leagues, so by the time I was a senior I pretty much had the mindset that I wanted to get drafted and go Pro. if I didn’t get drafted where I wanted then I was going to go to college and I think everything would’ve been perfectly fine.”
Troy anxiously watched with his family on draft day to see when his name would be called. He would not wait for long.
“With the Brewers, they had told me that they were going to pick me in the fourth about 10 minutes before it happened. So, I was excited but still anything can happen where they have a guy that their excited about and he hasn’t gone yet, so they wind up picking him. Luckily enough, they wound up picking me in the fourth and I started jumping up and down. My mom was screaming. Good times.’
Getting the Dream Voyage Underway
Troy Stokes, Jr. was chosen in the fourth round of the MLB Amateur draft in 2014 amid a little uncertainty. The Milwaukee Brewers organization was undergoing some changes at the time, but the outfielder was excited by all that he saw the big league club doing.
“When I got drafted we had kind of a different front office. Seeing the team progress, I know we changed GM’s, we change managers in the big leagues, made some trades, it’s going to be exciting, everybody’s pretty excited to see how good this team can be.”
Troy was sent to the Brewers rookie league team in Arizona to begin his career. He appeared in 47 games, hitting .262 with 29 runs scored and 18 RBI.
The rookie performed well, but he also had to make some adjustments. This was his first time away from home for a prolonged period of time, he was playing baseball almost every day, and the competition was a lot more challenging. He had proven himself, but he also knew he had to keep himself grounded.
“Competition gets better, I wouldn’t say harder, but it gets better as you go up. As you go up, you also get better. Even when you’re slumping or when your high, you just have to keep an even calm mindset toward the game.”
One of the biggest challenges that most players face when they jump from high school straight to the pros is that the success is measured much differently. No one is hitting .550 or striking out 18 guys a game. This can be disheartening to some, but it was not going to slow down the progress of Stokes.
“I’m sure that everybody in pro ball pretty much raked in high school and middle school, but you hit pro ball and you hit more slumps. The competition gets harder. That was the big thing for me coming from high school straight into pro ball. It’s like a wake-up call kind of. The competition is a huge jump and most of the guys fail right away, but you have to learn how to fail first to be successful. Very few people can go through the minors without struggling. It’s definitely something I’ve learned.”
A Continual Progression
The following season, Troy Stokes, Jr. was moved to Helena in the Pioneer League, where he appeared in 62 games, hitting .270 with 5 homers, 51 runs scored, 27 RBI, and 26 stolen bases. He also posted a .384 on-base percentage.
The season became indicative of the kind of performance Troy has had throughout his career in the Brewers organization. Each year, the team has moved him up to the next level and, while there has been some adjusting, Stokes has never been overwhelmed by the level of competition. He understood very early on that his attitude about his performance and the game in general were as much of a factor in his success as the number of hits he had or the number of stolen bases he recorded.
“I have played the game long enough to where I know that I’m going to be extremely hot sometimes and you’re going to be extremely cold. I could go 4-4 with three strikeouts and one ball hit hard or I could go 0-4 with four lineouts and that’s just the way the game is. It balances out if you keep that even keel. Eventually, it’s going to fall if you keep lining out, lining out, something is eventually going to fall. So, that’s pretty much my thought about it. You can’t pay attention to the negatives, you have to turn negatives into a positive. You know your strengths and what you can do, and you just have to go out there every day and take it one game at a time.”
That is a pretty impressive level of maturity for a 22-year-old, but it is one of the primary reasons why he has been moved up through the system like clockwork.
After a season in Helena, Troy was moved to Mid-A Wisconsin where he hit .268 in 86 games with 50 runs scored and 20 stolen bases in 24 attempts. In 2017, he began at High-A Carolina, but moved to the Biloxi Shuckers for the final six weeks of the season. While his average dipped slightly, his power numbers ballooned, going from 5 home runs in Wisconsin in 2016 to 20 total homers, including 6 in 35 games for the Shuckers.
That was not by accident. The Brewers prospect had made improving his power numbers a goal entering the season, and believes that he has established himself as a guy who can hit the long ball on a regular basis.
“I went into last year definitely trying to hit for more power. I didn’t have any home run goals last year of how many I wanted to hit, but I went into this year trying to duplicate it, if not do more.”
While knowing he can hit home runs, he also is fully aware that he cannot come to the plate looking to get deep every time. He has to be situational in his approach and has made that a top priority for this season.
“To not ever think about your home run numbers and to say that is a lie. I know I can get a home run anytime I come to the plate, but I can’t go to the plate every time swinging for the fence. In the right situation I’m trying to homer, but you just got to go with the pitches. I hit 20 homers, but I can’t hit every ball out of the park.”
Making His Stay in Biloxi a Short One
Troy Stokes, Jr. started the 2018 season with the Biloxi Shuckers, and he has been a key part of the team’s early season success. Troy has played in all 21 games, hitting .256 with 14 runs scored, 14 RBI and 7 doubles. He is on pace for a 90-plus run and RBI season, that is if he should stay in the Mississippi community the whole time.
While Troy is in Biloxi, he is doing all that he can to improve his game. One area he has always excelled is in stealing bases, where the prospect reached his 100th career steal recently in just 125 attempts. That is an 80 percent efficiency, but Troy is looking to make it better.
“Running the bases is another aspect of the game that people don’t really think about. I’m a base stealer and I know a lot of the best baserunners are actually not fast, because they have to use more than just their speed. My career I’ve been relying on my speed, where I want to become smarter and pick up all the little things like picking up reads.”
He is also benefitting from playing alongside another top prospect in the Brewers system, Corey Ray. Ray is another high round draft pick, chosen in the fifth round in 2o16, and the two have made it a challenge to push each other, looking for that day when they will be standing in the same outfield for the Milwaukee Brewers.
“We definitely drive each other. I’m always like, ‘Man, get on base so I can score you.’ I know if he gets on base, he’ll steal second and bang, right away somebody’s in scoring position. Corey is pretty fast, so I get a base hit and we’re up 1-0. We definitely drive each other, and we push each other. In the game of baseball, I’m friends with Corey, I’m friends with Trent (Grisham), and we know that we move up individually, you just can’t help that, but that pushes each of us. It’s never in a negative way personally, it’s like if he does good today it pushes me to do better. “
Milwaukee, Here He Comes
It may be a little premature to speak of Troy Stokes, Jr. in a Brewers uniform, but there is really no reason to doubt his talent or his approach to the game. One must also consider that he is highly motivated to succeed, mostly because of the people who helped to get to this level.
“Just knowing what my parents had to do to put me through baseball when I was a kid, all the traveling and getting around. Just making it to the big leagues would be a proud moment for me in playing in the big leagues, but it would be a proud moment for them. I look at it as acknowledgment that all that hard work paid off. Even if I don’t make it, I know they will be proud of me. I’m to try my hardest, I’ve going to put all I have into this because being to take care of my family would make it all worthwhile.”
Right now, Troy is just giving his team everything he has. The Biloxi Shuckers are 13-8 and in first place of the Southern League South Division. Stokes is a big part of that, as he has hits in 16 of the 21 games and has scored runs in 12 of those contests. The Shuckers are 9-3 in games where he has scored a run.
It is true that Biloxi, Mississippi may not seem like the spot to reach baseball stardom, but Troy Stokes, Jr. is sure using his opportunity there to make this a part of his pathway to success. A pathway that will likely lead to Colorado Springs and just one step away from the Major Leagues.
All Images Courtesy of Michael Krebs
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA