The Stephen Strasburg story is about to go national, and the Washington Nationals are about to be under a spotlight unlike anything the nation's capital's fans have seen since September 30, 1972 when the Washington Senators played their last game in DC until the Faithful stormed the field. Sports Ilustrated writer Lee Jenkins has a feature story entitled, "Stephen Strasburg Is Ready To Bring It", in this week's issue of SI, which is about the projected #1 overall pick in the '09 Amateur Draft, San Diego State University's Stephen Strasburg, who, at 20-years-old, stands to become one of, if not thee, highest paid draft picks in MLB History...and if the Washington Nationals don't choose the 6'4'', 220 lb, right-handed, fire-throwing potential future ace with the No.1 pick in June's Draft, they might risk alienating the DC Faithful all over again...
Mr. Jenkins was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of the article hitting the newsstands:
Federal Baseball(FB): You say in the article that, "Strasburg should clear $10 million when he is drafted in June," any reaction to the stories that came out recently about his agent Scott Boras floating 6-years/$50M as the price tag for Strasburg?
SI.com's Lee Jenkins: I called Boras for the story and did not get a call back, which I found strange, because he's usually pretty accessible. Maybe Boras does not want to talk about Strasburg because he's still an amateur. My estimate was based on what David Price commanded two years ago and what Boras negotiated for Pedro Alvarez last year. As a prospect, Strasburg is clearly on another level, but 6/50 sounds kind of outrageous. I am sure Boras will pitch Strasburg as a once-in-a-generation talent, but if he gets that kind of money, next year's No. 1 pick will ask for something similar. It could throw off the economics of the draft for a long time. It used to be that small market teams could even out the playing field through the draft. If we start seeing figures like this thrown around, it will be hard for small-market teams to compete even for draft choices.
FB: Is that ridiculous K/BB stat (254/38) more about the level of competition he's facing or is Strasburg just that dominant?
SI.com's Lee Jenkins: In the non-conference schedule, San Diego State plays a lot of the major Southern California teams, who are usually loaded. San Diego State's conference, the Mountain West, is decent but certainly not on par with the Pac-10 or SEC. Often times, the Mountain West does not get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. However, Mountain West hitters can take pitches as well as anybody else, and Strasburg rarely walks anybody. Because he has gained so much velocity in the past couple of years, he does not view himself as a power pitcher. He still thinks of himself as the guy who threw 88 in high school and had to locate. Of all his attributes, I was most impressed by his control. You always hear about phenoms who throw 100, but they have no idea where the ball is going. Strasburg not only hits the corners, he keeps the ball down.
FB: Having been labeled the best prospect in ages by more than a few scouts, is there any sign of the hype going to Strasburg's head?
SI.com's Lee Jenkins: I met Strasburg after the UNLV game, and when I told him I wanted to get together with him sometime in the next few days, he said: "Here's my cell phone number. Give me a call and we'll set it up." That's not something you hear very often from pro athletes -- "here's my cell phone number" -- or even soon-to-be pro athletes. Strasburg comes across as intense, but unassuming. As I wrote in the story, he didn't take out an insurance policy on himself, which I found strange for a guy being advised by Boras. When I asked him why he turned down the insurance, he said: "If God has another plan for me, I'll follow it." In general, he doesn't seem to be as impressed by himself as everybody else. After every game -- except the games he starts -- he rakes the mound with his teammates. He still lives with a few other players in a house his grandmother used to own. I think those guys remind him constantly that he is still a college baseball player.
FB: Has SDSU Baseball Coach Tony Gwynn been helpful in preparing Strasburg for what it's like to be a Major Leaguer?
SI.com's Lee Jenkins: This really dovetails off the last question. When you talk to Tony Gwynn, you have to keep reminding yourself that he is one of the greatest hitters of all time because he carries himself like a guy you just struck up a conversation with on a bus. I cannot imagine anybody in any profession who is more accomplished and less affected. (What other former major-league star is coaching college baseball?) Being around Gwynn for three years will give Strasburg a masters in how to act on the field, how to act off the field, how to treat teammates, how to treat fans, how to respect the game, how to respect his talent, etc. I believe Strasburg's humility and work ethic come straight from Gwynn. Also, because Gwynn has reached the highest level of the sport, he knows what is at stake for Strasburg. Some college coaches will abuse top pitchers for the sake of making a NCAA regional. Gwynn desperately wants to make a regional (San Diego State has not made one since '91), but he won't jeopardize Strasburg to do it. He realizes there are bigger things ahead.
FB: Having seen him pitch yourself, should DC fans believe the hype? Did Strasburg give any hint of where he'd like to play?
SI.com's Lee Jenkins: It's unreasonable to peg him as the next Clemens or Gooden. But if he stays healthy, I see no reason why he shouldn't be in the Nationals rotation at this time next year, and become their ace in the next two to three years. He does give up hits, even in college. Teams sit on his fastball and square it up. What I think separates him is his slider and his two-seam fastball, which is a little slower, but has really good sinking action. It will be interesting to see how he responds to failure. The rap on Strasburg, which goes back to high school, is that he gets rattled when something bad happens to him. It's true that he is tightly wound and hates to be hit. But coaches and scouts say he has gotten better at channeling his anger toward hitters. For obvious reasons, I'm sure he would love to play for the Padres, but he will be just fine playing for the Nationals. His mom is already talking about buying a motor home. But as we know from past Boras negotiations, personal preferences rarely play much of a role. It's about the contract.
Noteworthy Quotes From The Article:
Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, quoting San Diego Padres' General Manager Kevin Towers:
"He really has no flaws. You see guys who throw in the high 90's, but they usually have no idea where it's going. He can throw it in the high 90's and comfortably locate it."
Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, quoting "Acting" DC GM Mike Rizzo:
"A lot of things can happen before the draft...There is a chance of injury. Other players come to the forefront. But we are scouting him diligently. He is a very impressive package."
Sports Ilustrated's Lee Jenkins:
"Strasburg is the consensus No.1 pick in this year's draft--if the Washington Nationals don't take him, they might get chased back to Montreal..."
(ed. note - Thanks, Mr. Jenkins. And Mr. Sachs for setting this up.")