This is a strange position for us Washington sports fans. Hardly are we ever the first in anything as the Redskins, Capitals, Wizards and Nationals hover somewhere between mediocre and downright wretched from year to year. Yes on a rare occasion a team will have a run like the Capitals are having this year, but for the most part the biggest significance our nations capital holds in the sporting world is an occasional playoff birth, an arrested player, or an absurd quote.
The summer of 2009 will host an interesting change however, as the Washington Nationals dreadful 2008 has rewarded them the top pick in the amateur draft. As in all sports the number one pick comes with a great amount of responsibility and pressure, and for a good deal of time the limelight will be shining on Washington's newly restructured front office. Local fans know all too well what can happen when a team picks the wrong player first overall; the selection of Kwame Brown to the Wizards has left fans bitter and disappointed to this day.
But the speculation of the Nats first pick in 2009 wont be about who is the top talent in the draft, it will be what will Washington, or any organization do about phenom Stephen Strasburg. There is no question among anyone who has been paying attention to amateur baseball that the hard throwing righty has the potential to not just be the next big thing, but the best thing to come along for the next 25-50 years.
Strasburg has been clocked to constantly be throwing between 101-103 miles per hour so far in this his junior season at San Diego State University. If that wasn't unreal enough, in his 42.1 innings pitched so far this year he has struck out 88 and allowed only 8 walks. Opponents are batting .161 against him and he has an ERA of 1.70.
He is Major League ready, injury free, has a good head on his shoulders and is simply everything an organization wants. Unfortunately, Scott Boras, Strasburg's agent, knows this better than anyone. The super-agent, or super-villain depending on who you ask, Boras has in Strasburg a client that can forever change the contract negotiations of top draft picks in Major League Baseball. As it stands today, reports have Boras expecting a $50 million bonus for his client from presumably the Nationals or whoever has the nerve to draft the kid. Compare that to David Price's bonus of $8 million only a few years ago and you can see the conundrum the Nats with their first pick are in.
Aside from just his talent Strasburg has everything going in his favor for a record shattering bonus this summer.
He has they hype: In the last two weeks alone since college baseball has heated up, almost all major sports media outlets have done pieces on Strasburg, his talent, and his financial desires. ESPN had a re-occurring segment about him on Sportscenter. Yahoo.com had a feature piece on their front page asking if he will be the hardest thrower ever. Within weeks Strasburg has gone from a celebrity in inner-baseball circles to a well known name across the game.
He has the lore: Triple digits on the radar gun can give bad pitchers a career, there's something about it that captivates fans with super-human possibilities. But a constant 101 MPH fastball isn't the only legend Strasburg carries with him. He is an Olympic hero, carrying the team in its last campaign as the only college player on the roster and he has what makes all legends remembered, stories. Most notably of all, the story of his 21K game on a day where he had the flu.
He has the bargaining position: The Nationals failure to sign first round pick Aaron Crow in 2008 will come back to haunt them again. With Jim Bowden out Nationals fans will demand to see that there will be a change in the way things are operated, and seeing yet another top talent slip through the hands of a franchise that desperately needs it will not sit well. Boras knows this and can force the Nats hand. The media both locally and nationally will put huge pressure on Washington to take Strasburg, because any team that would pass on once in a generation talent is surely not a quality organization.
So as it stands it looks as if not only will the Nationals draft Stephen Strasburg, they will most likely give him whatever he wants. Whether or not they should is a question for another post, but it seems like despite the how, Nats fans should rejoice that this great talent is coming to D.C.
But lets hear your opinion, should the Nats take him/give him that money?