In the first few paragraphs of ESPN the Magazine writer Tim Keown's article on Stephen Strasburg and the impending showdown between the young pitcher, his agent Scott "Maximum" Boras and the Washington Nationals, owners of the 1st pick in this year's MLB draft, Mr. Keown describes the Washington Nationals as a team that's, "....hurting in every way-- home attendance, television ratings, NL East standings," and the DC franchise, Mr. Keown writes, is, "irrelevant nationally, and only marginally relevant locally," but that could all change with this year's No. 1 pick, which gives the Nationals, in Mr. Keown's words, "...the opportunity to get a once-in-a-generation talent, a pitcher who would be out of their range on the open market."
Mr. Keown goes on to recount the last year in Strasburg's life, quoting the hyperbolic scouts and talking to Strasburg's SDSU coaches, who recount the transformation they've seen in the pitcher since he arrived at the school. Then, Mr. Keown speaks to "Acting" DC GM Mike Rizzo, who, Mr. Keown observes, "...seems to be the lone voice looking beyond the hype", which is probably because that's Mr. Rizzo's job, as it's been for years as a scout, scouting director, assistant and now "acting" GM. Mr. Rizzo, like any GM, has some interest in downplaying the Nationals' desperation to add someone with Strasburg's talents in advance of the upcoming negotiations, and Mr. Rizzo's comments in the article that, "A lot of guys have dominated college hitters but haven't excelled in the big leagues," seem to be part of an agenda on behalf of the Nationals to downplay the hype, as he goes on to state elsewhere in the article that Strasburg, "...is no different from anyone else who's been drafted No.1," and then makes sure to dismiss the demands for the oft-mentioned "Matsuzaka-like" contract in the $50 million dollar area, by arguing that, "Daisuke Matsuzaka was a nine-year professional when he came here."
The media, as a whole, in these last few weeks, have seemed focused on bringing all the Strasburg talk back down to earth, which must delight the Nationals as they see one article after another listing the old pitching prospects who have flamed, or never panned out. Mr. Keown's article mentions Mark Prior, (#2 overall to CHC in 2001), Colt Griffin (#9 to KC in 2001), Brien Taylor (#1 by NYY in 1991), Todd Van Poppel (#14 by OAK) and Ben McDonald (#1 by BAL in 1991) as just a few of the cautionary tales of top pitching prospects, and in the online supplement to the article, Mr. Keown adds Kris Benson (#1 by PIT in 1993) to the list.
In the Sunday New York Times' Sports section today, NY Times' writer Alan Schwarz has an article entitled, "Pitching's Brightest Stars Sometimes Flame Out", where Mr. Schwarz writes that being called the best prospect that anyone has ever seen, "...is the rough equivalent of being rated the world's No. 1 hydrogen dirigible." Mr. Schwarz's article goes into more detail about Ben McDonald, selected No.1 overall by Nationals' neighbors to the north in Baltimore in 1991, who was described at the time by LA Dodgers' scout Ben Wade as having, "better stuff than anyone on the Baltimore staff...so damn complete a pitch right now. I mean, I don't remember the last time I graded a pitcher so high.'" **
Sound familiar? It's a story those who have been around have heard before, but as Mr. Schwarz explains, "The draft is for dreams. And amnesiacs."
Say, have you heard about this Bryce Harper kid?
(ed. note - " ** = McDonald went on to win 78 games in his 9-year career before a shoulder injury forced him into retirement.")
Eddie Bane could have been the Stephen Strasburg of his day -- a college standout who went straight to the bigs. But Bane won seven games in his Major League career. What fate will Strasburg have?