February 8, 2009

2009 Draft: First Things First

WaPo beat writer Chico Harlan has provided the first of what is sure to be a deluge of 2009 profiles of San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg, the only collegiate member of the USA's 2008 Olympic Team in Beijing and owner of a 23 K game against Utah, is expected to be the top pick in June's MLB amateur draft. And that top pick, of course, is held by our very own Washington Nationals, the consolation prize for being baseball's most inept franchise in 2008.

If Strasburg were to be selected first overall in June, he would join a less than distinguished club. Being taken with the first pick may not be the kiss of death for a pitcher's career, but it's no guarantee of future competence, let alone success. As the Post notes, eight pitchers have been selected with the top pick in the last 20 years. One, Tampa Bay's David Price, had a nice debut in late 2008 and performed pretty well in the Rays' run to the World Series. Another, former Oriole Big Ben McDonald had a very good career cut short by recurring injuries. The other six (with apologies to Luke Hochevar, who's certainly young enough to improve) are a collection of injury-plagued mediocrities.

Nevertheless, the Nationals are yolked to Strasburg at least as long as he remains the consensus best player in the country. He has another season of SDSU baseball ahead of him, but barring an injury, the consensus seems unlikely to change. This team simply cannot afford to pass on the best talent available, a player Jim Bowden, with his usual measured restraint, called "as good a pitcher as we've seen in the draft in 10 or 15 years."

Combine that whiff of desperation with the fact that Stasburg is represented by Scott Boras, and there are already hints of blood in the water. Chico Harlan suggests a signing bonus north of $6M, but you can expect Boras to use that number as a starting point for negotiations. The Nationals, having been burned by MLB's slotting system and roundly condemned for last year's Aaron Crow fiasco, may as well pick out a nice barrel now, because they're going to be over it this summer.

For more on Strasburg and the Nats, here's the Director's Cut of Chico's article and Dave Shenin's excellent Olympic-centric piece.

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