No surprise, Strasburg goes No. 1 to Nationals
SECAUCUS, N.J. – Drafting pitcher Stephen Strasburg was the easy part for the Washington Nationals. Signing him could be much more difficult.
Strasburg was selected by the woeful Nationals with the first pick in baseball’s amateur draft Tuesday night, a move that was long expected.
Considered one of the most talented prospects in the event’s 45-year history, the right-hander features a blazing fastball that’s been clocked at 102 mph – and some nasty breaking stuff, too. He went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA this season for San Diego State, leading the Aztecs to their first postseason berth since 1991.
“He’s a tremendous pitching package,” Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We weren’t going to pass on the best player in the draft.”
But signing him might be a major challenge, because agent Scott Boras is sure to seek a record contract – perhaps worth approximately $50 million.
Teams have until Aug. 15 to sign draft choices, otherwise they lose their rights.
“We don’t negotiate through the media, so I’m not going to begin now,” Rizzo said.
Strasburg leads Division I pitchers with 195 strikeouts in 109 innings this year, and was the only amateur on the U.S. Olympic team that won a bronze medal in Beijing last summer.
Strasburg went undrafted out of high school, but some think he has the ability to go straight from college to the big leagues.
“It’s tough to say right now,” Strasburg said in a phone interview on MLB Network. “I’m just really enjoying the time with friends and family right now. We’ll see what happens.”
One person who thinks it’s realistic is Strasburg’s coach at San Diego State, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
“I think he’s a lot closer than people think,” Gwynn said. “If he does get to the big leagues, he’s got the kind of stuff, the kind of baseball savvy, he could be successful.”
Rizzo sounded content to let Strasburg develop at a steady pace.
“Some players advance quicker than others, but there’s always a learning curve,” Rizzo said. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no pitcher or player that’s major league ready coming out of the draft. They’ve never experienced the wear and tear of a professional season.”
With the second pick, the Seattle Mariners chose North Carolina slugger Dustin Ackley, who has batted at least .400 for three consecutive seasons.
Regarded as the best hitter available, Ackley played mostly first base for the Tar Heels as he recovered from elbow ligament replacement surgery this season. But his impressive speed makes him a candidate to switch to center field as a pro.
Ackley, also represented by Boras, hit a three-run homer Sunday that helped North Carolina earn its fourth straight trip to the College World Series, which begins this weekend.
“This is a guy we thought could be here in a short period of time,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “We think this kid’s got a really nice future for him in Seattle.”
It was Seattle’s highest pick since 1993, when the Mariners took Alex Rodriguez first overall.
The San Diego Padres were the first team to go for a high school player, tabbing outfielder Donavan Tate at No. 3.
A gifted all-around athlete, Tate was a baseball and football star at Cartersville High in Georgia, and he has committed to play both sports at North Carolina. He is the son of former NFL running back Lars Tate.
Only a few years ago, the baseball draft was held in virtual obscurity via conference call. This year it went prime time for the first time.
With commissioner Bud Selig announcing picks from the podium, the first round was broadcast live on MLB Network. The only thing missing was a Green Room filled with anxious prospects wearing flashy suits.
Eleven of the first 15 picks were pitchers, considered the strength of this unpredictable draft class.
The fourth and fifth selections were players who rocketed up draft boards late.
Pittsburgh went for Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez, a late bloomer, and Baltimore chose high school right-hander Matthew Hobgood out of California.
San Francisco took another right-hander, Zack Wheeler out of East Paulding High School in Georgia. The Giants picked right before his hometown Atlanta Braves, who were thought to be interested in Wheeler.
The Braves then selected pitcher Mike Minor, who joined David Price (2007) and Jeremy Sowers (2004) as Vanderbilt lefties to go among the first seven picks.
Cincinnati chose Arizona State right-hander Mike Leake at No. 8, and Detroit went for righty Jacob Turner, a Missouri high schooler.
The Nationals were the first team to have a pair of top-10 picks. They chose reliever Drew Storen at No. 10, a right-hander from Stanford.
That pick was compensation for Washington failing to sign its selection at No. 9 last year, Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow.
After playing in an independent minor league, Crow went back into the draft pool this year and was chosen No. 12 overall by Kansas City, one spot after Colorado picked Tyler Matzek, a high school lefty from California.
AP Sports Writer Joseph White in Washington contributed to this report.