Barring any unforeseen events, like rain in Buffalo, NY on Friday, or the stiff neck from a hotel bed or knee injury suffered shagging flies that kept Stephen Strasburg from making national television appearances during Arizona Fall League action, the Washington Nationals' '09 no.1 overall Draft pick will make his major league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 8th in Washington, D.C.'s Nationals Park, twenty-three days after fellow '09 1st Round pick, reliever Drew Storen, made his MLB debut on May 17th on the road is St. Louis, and a day after the Nats are expected to make College of Southern Nevada catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper their third 1st Round pick in twelve months in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft which will once again broadcast live from the MLB Network Studios in Secaucus, NJ on June 7th. The Nationals have become a national story this year, and not just because they're playing .500 ball at 26-26 later in the season than they have since their inaugural campaign in the nation's capital in 2005 when they were 27-25 after 52 games. It's the two 1st Round picks the Nats have used to add a potential future closer and potential future ace to their roster and if they do select and sign him, the third pick the Nats will use to add a once-in-a-generation bat to a team that has a Face of the Franchise-type Gold Glove third baseman and a wealth of pitching talent that's been stockpiled in the years since Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo took over at the helm of the third Major League Baseball franchise to attempt to make it work in Washington.
Back on May 25th, Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore (@adamkilgoreWP) tweeted that, "The #Nats have decided on their first overall pick, Mike Rizzo said. [But] Wouldn't say who," it will be. The only name discussed in the DC GM Mike Rizzo's latest blog post at MASNSports.com entitled, "Looking forward to the June Draft", is Bryce Harper's, with the Nats' general manager saying only that he's seen him and, "...he's definitely got tools and skills," while reiterating the fact that he has, "...no issue, whatsoever, about [Harper's] makeup." The 17-year-old catcher is two games into the NJCAA World Series, having hit .442/.524/.986 with 22 doubles, 29 HR's and 89 RBI's in 62 games and 215 at bats so far this season. The negotiations with Harper will inevitably be as drawn out as the Strasburg negotiations which went down to the very last minutes before the signing deadline last August, but the Nationals have shown recently that they're willing to spend the money necessary to get their top picks inked.
Drew Storen, taken 10th overall out of Stanford in last year's Draft, signed a day after being selected and immediately went into the system with the goal of working his way to the Majors as quickly as possible. After 41 games and 53.2 IP in the Nats' organization, in which Storen was (2-1) with 15 saves and 64 K's (10.7 K/9), the 22-year-old right-hander made his MLB debut with 0.2 scoreless against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 17th, less than a year after he was drafted. Since then the future Nats' closer has throw 5.2 innings in relief, working in a middle relief role to complement the back end of the Nats' bullpen which has Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps closing things out for the suprisingly successful Nats. In an appearance on the MLB Network's MLB Tonight last night, DC GM Mike Rizzo was asked what he's seen so far from Storen:
Mike Rizzo: "He's come on like gangbusters, and he was rewarded by having a full half of a season more than Stephen [Strasburg] did in his first professional year, he signed the day after we drafted him, he was out playing and made it to Double-A out of his draft year, went to the Fall League and dominated there, and we just couldn't keep him down. After a couple of our bullpen guys struggled it was time for him to come up. I always thought that bullpen guys develop faster than starting pitchers and he had done everything that we asked of him in the minor leagues...the guy pounds the strike zone with three quality pitches and he has no fear and he goes right after you."
Strasburg, as mentioned above, will make one more start for Triple-A Syracuse before his scheduled MLB next Tuesday. The 21-year-old right-hander has 10 starts and 50.1 IP on his resume in his first professional season, having allowed 28 hits, 14 runs, 8 earned, 1 HR and 12 walks (2.1 BB/9) while recording 60 K's (10.7 K/9). The 21-year-old right-hander dominated the Mountain West Conference in his Draft year and has been well-nigh unhittable as he worked his way through Double and Triple-A, and now Washington's second '09 1st Round is set to jump to the next level with the Nats. As Mr. Rizzo told the MLB Network hosts last night, the right-hander is ready:
Mike Rizzo: "...it goes back to [Strasburg] has absolutely no fear. And I think that that is one of the most underrated, under-talked-about things that a pitcher has to possess. He's got electric stuff, but once you get into those stadiums with the second level in them, all the development goes behind you and now it's time to get guys out and win on the major league level."
The Nationals' GM isn't being asked about the 100-loss seasons anymore. The Nationals aren't being asked to explain their role in international free agent scandals. The focus from the national media isn't on the misspelled jerseys or Draft failures like the Aaron Crow disaster, instead it's on the field where the Nationals are staying competitive in a tough NL East, and on the Nats' system which is turning high draft picks into contributing members of a major league roster that one day soon is going to be competing with the elite teams in baseball. With two 1st Round picks in one year, the Nationals have been given a rare opportunity to jumpstart their growth, and next week when the top hitting prospect in a decade is selected with the top pick in the 2010 Draft a day before the top pitching prospect in a decade makes a highly anticipated debut in front what is obviously going to be a sold out Nationals Park and a national television audience, baseball will finally be back in the nation's capital.