Nationals Select Strasburg No. 1 Overall
"We are thrilled to select someone with the special talents Stephen possesses," acting Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement. "Those talents have long been on our radar, and Stephen's domination at San Diego State and vast experiences gained with Team USA last summer have done nothing to change our thougts about his abilities."
About an hour before the Nationals made their pick, heavy showers began to fall on Washington. Was it one last sign that one of the most downtrodden franchises in baseball is headed for a new dawn?
Perhaps, but the Strasburg saga is only beginning in Washington. The flame-throwing right-hander, who is capable of hitting triple digits on the radar gun with regularity, is being advised by superagent Scott Boras, and he is certainly going to be looking for a record payday.
Strasburg has been called the best college pitcher ever in some corners, and negotiations between Boras and the Nationals are likely to go down to the wire on Aug. 17, the deadline for teams to sign 2009 draft picks.
"It's now in Washington's hands," commissioner Bud Selig said from Secaucus, N.J., where the draft was being televised. "They know what draft choices have gotten. Everybody knows. So they're on their own."
Rizzo, who dueled with Boras in 2004 when he was Diamondbacks scouting director and drafted shortstop Stephen Drew first overall, did not seem intimidated by the prospect of a contentious back and forth.
"We weren't going to pass on the best player in the draft," Rizzo said.
"We don't negotiate through the media, so I'm not going to do that here," he said of the potentially nail-biting negotiations, "but we spoke to Scott Boras. ... We also had a detailed call with Stephen Strasburg and he was elated to be drafted by the Nationals and picked first overall."
How quickly he does sign could impact when he gets to the major leagues, and in what role.
"It's all about timing and when we sign him," Rizzo said.
The organization would be hesitant to thrust him into a starting role if he took the full two months to sign, Rizzo said, citing the need to build his arm strength back up if he sits out that long while a contract is worked out. That would make it unlikely that he reaches the majors as a starter this year, though the team could still bring him up in September as a reliever.
Beyond the question of if he will sign with the Nationals -- and for all the bluster coming from the Boras camp about $50 million bonuses, it seems like he ultimately will -- there is the question of if he can possibly live up to all the hype. From Ben McDonald to Mark Prior, draft history is littered with pitchers who were taken first overall and ultimately flamed out.
Strasburg's college coach, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, is confident that he can live up to the enormous pressure and expectations that will be placed on him by fans in Washington.
"Everybody from the end of last season to today thought he would be in the position he's in today, and he wasn't fazed by it. He kept his nose to the grindstone and here he is," Gwynn said.
And what about the ugly history of pitchers taken first overall?
"Maybe the right guy hasn't been in that situation [before]," he said. "Stephen's a guy who can handle it."
Despite the hype and the talent, Gwynn insisted that he isn't major league ready, but he did concede that he could compete at the top level because of his "baseball savvy."
"This is a great day in Nationals history," Rizzo said. "We couldn't have been pleased any more."
Maybe so, but in many ways, the intrigue is only just beginning. Now it becomes a matter of if, when and can.
If the Nationals sign Strasburg, when will he be ready and can he possibly live up to the hype?
All that anticipation for draft day, and the waiting game is only just beginning.