Stephen Strasburg is arguably the most talked about name in college baseball these days.
The towering 6′5″ starting pitcher can throw a baseball consistently in the upper 90s, and frequently at 100 MPH or more. On top of that, the San Diego State product possesses an impressive offspeed pitch in an 80-plus MPH slurve (slider-curveball) that he uses to strike out hapless opponents.
Almost assuredly, Strasburg will become the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s Major League Baseball amateur draft held in June. That pick is owned by the Washington Nationals, who say they plan to explore all options before settling on any one player.
The Nationals are in a position where they are almost forced to take Strasburg, as was previously admitted by former Washington general manager Jim Bowden.
Passing on the prodigy would be as close to franchise suicide as any organization can get in this day and age, and require a tedious explanation to a fanbase hungry for Strasburg-mania to reach the nation’s capitol.
But what does history have to say about all this?
History, in fact, is not on the Nationals’ side. Nor on Strasburg’s.
A large percentage of pitchers drafted among the first 10 picks in any given draft fail to ever meet expectations.
Many of these pitchers are big-bodied “prototypes” that succumb to injury or simply cannot develop another pitch to go along with a blistering fastball. Almost all the pitchers drafted that highly possess a heater in the 90s, yet few can master the curve or changeup.
Let’s examine the top 10 picks over an eight-year span of drafts, from 1996 to 2003. Below, I’ve outlined the pitchers taken amongst those first 10 picks, along with the year they were drafted, the team they were drafted by, and the number of their overall selection in parentheses.
The only thing most of these pitchers have in common is that the big leagues wasn’t kind to them. The large majority have not been able to find or sustain success in the majors, while only a small handful of names have even registered on the casual fan’s radar (Josh Beckett, Barry Zito, Ben Sheets, etc).
Certain teams have been especially plagued by poor draft selections during this span.
Pittsburgh (Kris Benson, Bobby Bradley, John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington, Paul Maholm), Kansas City, with the exception of Zack Greinke (Dan Reichert, Kyle Austin, Mike Stodolka, John Griffin, Greinke), Detroit (Seth Greisinger, Matt Anderson, Matt Wheatland, Kyle Sleeth) and the very same Montreal/Washington franchise that will likely draft Strasburg (John Patterson, Josh Girdley, Justin Wayne, Josh Karp, Clint Everts) have all found little success in drafting pitchers in the first round.
All of this makes you wonder whether a guy like Strasburg is worth the risk.
Scouts will have you believe that he is, but they were saying the same things about Kris Benson, Matt Anderson, and Bryan Bullington at one time, too.
He’s the once-in-a-lifetime pitcher who cannot be passed on—worthy of a No. 1 selection. He has a great arm, great frame, tremendous life on his fastball, and huge upside. All these comments could apply to Strasburg or the many pitchers who have failed to make a splash in the major leagues.
So what will the Nationals do? No matter the risk, they’ll likely take Strasburg, and if they don’t, the Seattle Mariners will at No. 2. Either way, Strasburg won’t slide far in this draft. Just don’t expect him to be as good as advertised.