The number one overall pick in the 2009, Stephen Strasburg, signed for a record bonus just hours before the signing deadline. Although he missed the regular minor league season he has been throwing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League. Much has been made of his triple-digit fastball and mind boggling numbers in college. The question remains whether or not he is ready to compete at the highest level.
His professional debut in the AFL has had mixed results. Overall, Strasburg has thrown 15.1 innings striking out 17 batters and walking five. He currently has an ERA of 5.28 but this is inflated by one very poor start he made on October 22 when he allowed seven hits, including three home runs, and seven earned runs in just 2.2 innings of work. He is pitching better than his numbers would indicate. As The Hardball Time’s Harry Pavlidis showed he is among the leaders in several pitching categories in the AFL including whiff rate (.339) and he has a remarkable ground ball rate at 73 percent.
Strasburg is a physical specimen at 6’4 220 pounds. His four-seam fastball has gained notoriety for reaching 100 plus miles per hour, although he generally sits in the mid-nineties. He throws his two-seam fastball most of the time which runs in the mid-nineties and has late sinking action. He also throws a hard breaking curve ball that actually appears like a slider with good, late downward bite. His command of this breaking pitch has been inconsistent in the past, although it is still generally effective. He will occasionally mix in a change-up as well.
With the lack of talent available to the Washington National’s there is little doubt Strasburg would already be one of their top pitchers. He could very well open the season in the rotation, although I doubt the Nationals push him that much. The safe bet is to assume Strasburg will begin the season in the minors, working his way up rapidly through the system while under a strictly monitored pitch-count. He could find himself pitching in the major leagues by mid-season and I think he could quickly become the Nationals best starter. He will at the very least stir some positive fan reaction towards a struggling franchise.
I compare Strasburg favorably to Mark Prior, another talented young phenom who enjoyed great success early in his career. Prior, however, quickly flamed out after numerous injuries marred a once promising career. It remains to be seen how Strasburg will pan out, but it is apparent he has the stuff to succeed at this level.