"Strasburg is the best player in this draft class and the best college pitching prospect of at least the past 20 years, if not in the history of the draft." --Keith Law's scouting report from ESPN.com Insider Draft Analysis.
"An argument not to take Strasburg has to at least offer a viable alternative... but this year's draft class doesn't offer one. He clearly is the right choice, his performance backs it up and the history of the draft doesn't give sufficient ammunition to send Washington in another direction." --Keith Law, June 8, 2009.
"This is my 36th draft. I've never seen anything like this."--A scout, quoted by Tim Keown in the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine.
"The best amateur pitcher I've seen in my 27 years in the draft."--Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras.
Is Steven Strasburg destined to fail? How good does he have to be to live up to the hype?
For the sake of argument, let's assume the Washington Nationals draft Strasburg with the number one overall pick in Tuesday's MLB First Year Player Draft. Then, let's further assume that the Nationals bring him under contract at the signing deadline of August 15 at midnight.
For sake of this argument, we won't speculate on numbers, since there are reports of everything from $10.5 million (the previous record given to Mark Prior) up to the $50 million number than Scott Boras reportedly has been throwing out to anyone that would listen.
But let's just say the Nats get Strasburg signed by August 15. What are your expectations? Call him up immediately? Have him make a couple starts in the minors? Shut him down for the year?
Then what? What would make you, a Nats fan (presumably) happy? What if they go into spring training and Strasburg doesn't immediately dominate? The reports make this kid sound like Doc Gooden and Nolan Ryan rolled into one.
Among the legends, Strasburg is described as: Big. Strong. 100-MPH fastball. Unhittable slider. A change-up so good that he can't throw it to college hitters because they are all that late on his fastball anyway. Impeccable control. Great makeup. Well preserved by college coach and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
But there are warnings; respected baseball writers are lining up taking the opposite stance. There's been an awful lot of press leading up to the draft warning folks about the perils of drafting a pitcher number one overall. Thomas Boswell started it back in March. He's tempered his stance just a bit, but only just a bit, so that if he fails he can remain sitting on his high horse.
Rob Neyer picked up the ball from Boz and ran with it, too.
Over the weekend, Alan Schwartz of the New York Times almost sounded gleeful as he described some famous flame-outs.
So I ask again, what will it take? Barring injury, what can Nats fans reasonably expect out of Strasburg—a player that seemingly has no shot to live up to his hype? Will anything short of perennial Cy Young candidate suffice?
Does he have to be a Cy Young candidate right out of the box to not be considered a failure? How many years do you give him? Tim Lincecum won the Cy Young in his second full season at age 24. Is that good enough? C.C. Sabathia won in his seventh season at age 26. Can you wait that long?
What if he turns into a good, occasional all-star? What if he turns out to be a serviceable, dependable starter but not all-star quality?
Would merely being good be good enough?