Stephen Strasburg: The College Baseball Phenom

Eric FlaxmanContributor IApril 16, 2009

Stephen Strasburg is the No. 1 prospect in this year’s MLB first year player draft. He is currently a junior RHP at San Diego State. Strasburg has two pitches: a 94-98 mph that can touch triple digits, and a slider that he has better command of than his fastball.

Also, he is considered to be the best pitching prospect in the last 10-20 years. Everyone who has seen him pitch thinks that he is going to be a star. Right now it is not a question of whether or not he is going to be the first player taken by the Washington Nationals in the draft, but rather how many millions his contract will be worth.

This article is to discuss some recent statements made by ESPN’s baseball analysts and specifically Keith Law. All the analysts seem to believe that Strasburg, once drafted, should not be sent to the minor leagues but should be sent straight to the majors.

This is because he is considered to be so good that it is unnecessary for him to learn in the minors. The scouts claimed that there was nothing that he could learn by pitching in the minors and the Nationals would be wasting his talent. However, I have a few issues with this argument and believe that he should be sent to Triple A for the rest of the 2009 season and should go to the majors in 2010.

Stephen Strasburg should not go straight to the major leagues for a few reasons. The first reason is that he has simply not faced good enough competition to go straight to the majors.

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In baseball this is especially important. Since Strasburg pitches in college for San Diego State he is only facing college baseball players. For the most part these players are a couple years away from the majors, with the fine tuning of their skills in the minors.

The majority of the major leaguers are going to come from the minor leagues. Many of the stars who come from the minor leagues have never played college baseball. Let’s just name a few examples of players who never played in college but played in Triple-A: David Wright, Jose Reyes, Justin Morneau, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey.

These are just a few players who are elite hitters in the MLB who Strasburg would never have faced in college. Because of this, I think that the next best level of competition is not the major leagues but is in fact Triple A.

If Strasburg is as elite of a prospect as baseball writers are making him out to be, then he should face the next level of competition for a couple of months or half a season, dominate, and then go to the Major Leagues. I don’t think this is the conservative approach, I think this is the best approach.

This way he will be able to learn how to get better hitters out while still having a chance to keep pitching if he struggles a little early.

The other reason that Strasburg should not be sent straight to the big leagues is that he is not used to pitching a big league schedule. In college, pitchers pitch once a week and they don’t throw nearly as many innings. Strasburg’s arm will not be ready to jump into a season where he has to pitch every five or six days. In the majors he will have to make at least one extra start every month.

While that may not sound like a lot, in actuality it is. There are two reasons why this extra start is important. The first is that once your body is used to pitching in a certain routine, it is hard to suddenly change that. His arm will be much more fatigued which can make him struggle more which could cause his confidence to go down along with causing him to become more injury prone.

The second reason has to do completely with fatigue. Instead of facing many easy outs like he is in college, (easy outs are the players who won’t go to play professional baseball anywhere once they graduate college) he will have very few easy outs in the major leagues.

Now, if he has very few easy outs he will have to work harder for each out he gets. This will cause his fatigue to increase faster than he is used to. Then, add the extra start each month to his already increased fatigue and you have a possible disaster.

All of these issues will be eliminated if he goes to the minor league for a couple months or half a season and then goes to the big leagues at the beginning of the 2010 season. In the minors he will have gotten his feet wet against the best non-major leaguers and been able to control his pitch count so that he could get himself ready for pitching an extra start a month when he goes to the major leagues in the 2010 season.

For all of these reasons I believe that it would be a huge mistake to send Stephen Strasburg straight to the major leagues.