Come to Think of It: Why Stephen $trasburg Will Break the Bank

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer IJune 9, 2009

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard a lot about San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who will be the first player selected in Tuesday’s annual MLB draft.

The Washington Nationals, who own that first selection, had better start saving, because Strasburg will command the biggest bonus in draft history.

Strasburg is a “can’t miss” prospect. Of course, we’ve seen other so-called can’t miss guys actually miss. Brien Taylor was picked at No. 1 by the New York Yankees and never panned out.

And we all know what happened to the last pitcher anointed as the Greatest College Pitcher Ever, Mark Prior. Mark was selected No. 2 in the 2001 draft; right after the Twins picked Joe Mauer. I bet the Cubs would like to have that pick back, eh?

But as good as Prior was supposed to be, scouts say Strasburg is much better.

His fastball regularly sits at 96-98, and has topped 100 mph in every start. In one start, Strasburg’s 120th pitch was clocked at 100 mph.

He has struck out more than half of the batters he's faced, which is rare for a college reliever, but almost unheard of for a starter.

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He has a devastating curveball which really functions as a slider, which is graded at a 70 on the scouting scale (out of 80).

Perhaps best of all, his mechanics are clean and repeatable, resulting in impeccable control. He has walked about 20 hitters this season.

In short, Stephen Strasburg is THIS good.

Strasburg knows this; his “adviser” knows this; and the Nats know this, too. And I'm sure that Strasburg's people recognize that the Nats are in the unenviable position of having to sign Strasburg or face the ridicule and angst of a fan base that is already frustrated.

All of that adds up to a record signing bonus. Some experts have estimated his bonus as high as $50 million.

But is Strasburg just another can’t miss pitcher who, like Ben McDonald before him, will ultimately fail? Well, count ESPN’s Keith Law among those that don’t think so.

Law compared Strasburg's statistics to those of six previous "best college pitcher ever" candidates. Strasburg surpassed the field in ERA and K percentage and was second in BB percentage.

Further, his strikeout rate (strikeouts divided by total batters faced, excluding intentional walks and sacrifice hits) was the best of anyone on Law’s list.

Law does point out that the stats aren’t perfect. They don’t account for strength of opposition, for example.

As to the argument that pitchers selected No. 1 in the draft don’t pan out, Law counters with the suggestion that it is due mainly to the fact that, in many cases, the pitcher taken No. 1 wasn’t the best player available in that draft.

Law cited examples like Bryan Bullington, picked No. 1 by the Pirates in 2002. He wasn’t even the best pitcher in that draft, let alone its best player, which was B.J. Upton.

Meanwhile, Law says that Strasburg “clearly is the best player in this year's draft.”

Of course, none of this ensures that Strasburg will ever live up the hype. Still, unless Washington has the biggest brain cramp in draft history, they really have no choice but to take him with the first pick. But he won’t come cheaply, come to think of it.

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