Marina's Paul Strong

O.C. Insider: Marina's Paul Strong

O.C. Insider: Marina's Paul Strong
The Scoop on one of the top pitchers in Orange County.

• The Scoop on: Marina pitcher Paul Strong

• The basics: Left-hander, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, senior

• Stat line: After pitching a no-hitter against Esperanza last week, he has a record of 3-1, 1.71 ERA and 0.734 WHIP (less than one base runner per inning).

• Raw stats: 32 2/3 innings pitched, 16 hits (7 for extra bases), 8 runs, 8 earned runs, 8 walks, 40 strikeouts

• Scouting Strong: Strong has a few things in his favor. 1) He’s a lefty. 2) His fastball can touch the low 90s, though he’s in the high 80s with greater frequency. 3) He throws three pitches for strikes - fastball, curve, changeup.

“I’m going to UC Irvine, but we’ll see what happens in the draft,” Strong said. He said he has no set number that Major League clubs must hit to lure him away.

Marina coach Paul Renfrow has heard gaudy projections from some scouts and mild expectations from others. He is No. 63 ranked high school senior in the country, by

“They feel he could be drafted in the top three rounds, but it depends who you’re talking to,” Renfrow said. “He wants to go to college, though. He’s a smart kid. … He wants to go to UCI. … It would take a lot.”

• Classy Clown: Well known for cracking jokes and lightening the mood, Strong said, “It’s a game meant for fun, so that’s what it should be. … Sometimes you walk into the dugout and there’s a lot of tension. I like to bring a fun attitude. People react off that energy.”

Strong’s status has skyrocketed in the past year. After earning team MVP and first-team All-Sunset League honors as a junior, Strong excelled on prestigious travel teams during the summer, against top national, state and local competition.

“When players come into their own, sometimes they separate themselves and feel like they can do it by themselves,” Renfrow said. “He (Strong) is a good team player. He doesn’t big-time people.”

• Classroom Clown: “I will have a seat in the hall sometimes, due to my excessive talking,” Strong said.

Don’t be fooled. He’s a scholar-athlete award winner.

• Mound Mien: First off, keep in mind that any criticism of Strong (both self- and coach-inflicted) is relative. He was, after all, Marina’s ace last season, striking out 83 batters in 59 innings.

But, everyone wants to get better. Here’s some analysis.

“He’s learned how to be a complete pitcher,” Renfrow said. “Mentally, sometimes he let things get him down (in the past). He shakes those things off now and bows his neck.”

The coach, revisiting Strong’s final two regular season starts of ’08, against Newport Harbor and Esperanza, says, “He took complete control of those games. He realized he had some skills. He wasn’t just a young kid pitching on the varsity. He belonged there.”

In Strong’s words, “Last year, there was a lot of second guessing. I’d lose faith on the mound sometimes as a junior, when things got intense. This year, I’ve been able to keep my emotions to a minimum.”

• Pushing off: Last summer’s success showed Strong, “I’ve got what it takes to hang in with the big guys,” he said. “It was nice to know where I stack up.”

He also saw room to grow. A regular weight lifter, Strong began working with a personal trainer in November, with an eye on enhancing his leg strength.

“He’s showed me there’s so much more you can do,” Strong said of his trainer. “I’ve noticed a huge increase in stamina on the mound and driving to the plate.”

• Tunnel Vision: Usually, Strong’s making the jokes. Tuesday, after Marina’s game at Los Alamitos, he was the target of the joking. As he hung back on the field for this interview, teammates and coaches made their way to the parking lot. But they didn’t get on the bus.

When Strong began walking toward the lot, he spotted his teammates milling by the door. Immediately, he knew what was coming.

Strong expressed slight frustration, before saying: “I can take a joke.”

As he approached, his teammates started shouting, and they formed a human tunnel to the bus door. When he reached the entrance, a teammate shouted, “Let’s go, Big League!!”

Strong gamely sprinted through his teammates and onto the bus.

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