Stephen Strasburg is too good for college baseball.
Entering the 2009 season as the top collegiate pitcher in the country, the San Diego State right hander has somehow managed to elevate his game this season, striking out 174 batters in 94 and one-third innings through last Thursday’s win over Utah, while allowing just 14 earned runs on 72 base runners. To translate these words into cold, rational numerals:
Avg. IP per start: 7 1/3
BA Against: .167
As if his overall performance wasn't enough to get anyone with any vested interest in baseball paying attention, Strasburg complemented his 2009 campaign with a 17-K no-hitter against the Air Force Academy two weeks ago. Additionally, his name is the ninth overall suggestion Google has when “Stephe” is typed into the search bar, just ahead of the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin.
However, just as everything seemed to be rolling along for Stephen Strasburg, a terrible thing happened. The Washington Nationals were (predictably) the worst team in baseball in 2008 and landed the first pick of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
This is a devastating development for the young pitcher, as there is little doubt that even the Washington Nationals aren’t stupid enough to not take him with the No. 1 pick.
With the Nats’ track record over the past year including a federal investigation of their since-deposed (and as yet unreplaced) general manager, a corruption scandal surrounding the team’s Dominican academy, and an apparent inability to spell anything correctly, there is little evidence that they won’t find a way to screw this up.
Scenario No. 1: Nationals draft Strasburg but refuse to play ball with his agent, Scott Boras, and he doesn’t sign, marking the second consecutive season in which they fail to sign their first-round draft pick. Strasburg goes on to play in an independent league for a year and either:
A. Hurts himself and becomes, “Hey, remember that pitcher from San Diego State, Stan Schwartzberg?”
B. Re-enters the draft the following year, is selected by the Diamondbacks or Indians and becomes awesome, while the Nationals redirect all of that money they saved by not signing him and give Dmitri Young a multi-year extension.
Scenario No. 2: Nationals draft Strasburg, sign him to whatever Boras wants, let him dominate in the minors for a couple of weeks and then promote him to the majors, where he and Jordan Zimmermann give the team a rare glimmer of hope as one of the premier one-two young starting pitcher combos in the major leagues.
Elijah Dukes then stabs him in the heart as half of a murder-suicide.
Scenario No. 3: (Most pessimistic and therefore, unfortunately, most likely) Nationals draft and sign Strasburg. However, he then gets injured at some point during the next 12 months and requires major surgery. He then returns to action at about two-thirds capacity and never quite gets it together again.
He works out of the Nationals’ bullpen for a couple of innings a year and is ultimately released at some point between the 2012 World Series and the start of 2013 spring training. He then catches on with the Marlins, Rockies, or Royals, and has a couple of acceptable seasons as a starting pitcher before quietly retiring from baseball in 2017.
This sounds depressing, however, if things were to play out in this manner, Stephen Strasburg would at that point be a 29-year-old multi-millionaire with three-fourths of a college education and some stories to tell.
I can think of worse things.