Taking the player at the top of every scouting chart, Washington selected San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday.
The Nationals feel strongly that Strasburg can make an immediate impact in their rotation, maybe joining their Major League roster as early as September, and they have made no secret that he would be their choice.
If he is promoted to the big leagues this year, Strasburg will become only the third pitcher in baseball history to be drafted No. 1 and play in the Majors in the same season, joining Rangers left-hander David Clyde in 1973 and Orioles right-hander Ben McDonald in '89.
"It's just a very exciting day for me and my family," Strasburg told the MLB Network. "It's definitely a day I've been waiting for a long time. ... I'm really enjoying this time right now with my friends and family. We have to go from there and see what happens."
Strasburg is the third pitcher to be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in four years, with Tampa Bay's David Price (2007) and Kansas City's Luke Hochevar (2006) already pitching in the Majors. Strasburg is the 14th pitcher taken with the first pick in the 45-year history of the Draft.
Washington's pick marks the seventh time in eight years that the Nationals/Expos franchise has taken a pitcher in the first round. Cheers came from around Nationals Park as fans watched on the giant scoreboard when the team's selection was announced.
"He has power and command along with an advanced feel for pitching," said Nationals scouting director Dana Brown. "That's what makes him special.
"He still has to go through his bumps and bruises, but when a guy has power, command and a good feel for pitching, he is on the fast track."
The Nationals added another pitcher with the 10th overall pick, selecting Stanford University right-hander Drew Storen. Storen was a closer in college, going 7-1 with seven saves and a 3.80 ERA in 2009. He had 66 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings of relief.
"Both pitchers possess outstanding makeup, outstanding skills and outstanding character, which is the hallmark of the players we have been putting in the system in Washington," said acting Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
"We are thrilled to select someone with the special talents that Stephen possesses. Those talents have long been on our radar, and Stephen's domination at San Diego State and vast experiences gained with Team USA last summer have done nothing to change our thoughts about his abilities."
Strasburg, 20, went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 starts this season at San Diego State en route to being named a Golden Spikes Award finalist. He struck out 195 batters with just 19 walks in 109 innings.
|Stephen Strasburg became the 14th pitcher taken first overall since the institution of the First-Year Player Draft in 1965. It marks the position with the most overall first picks.|
No. 1 picks
Strasburg's best game came on May 8, when he threw his first career no-hitter and struck out 17 batters against Air Force. He fanned 23 batters against the University of Utah at Tony Gwynn Stadium on April 11, 2008.
Strasburg has a devastating slider, and his fastball is clocked in the 100-mph range. He was the only college player to play on the U.S. Olympic baseball team in Beijing last year, going 1-1 with a 0.64 ERA and winning a bronze medal.
"He has exceptional stuff and an exceptional arm," said an American League scout. "[It helps] he was with Tony Gwynn. Most of your college coaches have not been professionals. Tony was a star and a guy who really knows how things are [in the big leagues]."
The buzz around Strasburg has been intense for months, but D-backs outfielder Justin Upton, the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, said he thinks Strasburg should be able to handle it.
Hall of Famer Gwynn, Strasburg's coach at San Diego State, also had high praise.
"I've never seen a kid put his heart and soul and all his time and effort into trying to get better," Gwynn said. "So today is the culmination of three years of hard work. He's been a great student, he's been a student of the game, each year he got better and better and he's one of the few guys where I can honestly sit here and tell you he's ready.
"He's ready for those next challenges that are going to come at that next level."
"It depends on what kind of dude he is," Upton said. "If he's got swagger and he knows that his stuff is that good, no, it won't bother him."
Strasburg was a three-year varsity star at West Hills High School in Santee, Calif. During his senior season, Strasburg finished with a 1.68 ERA, struck out 74 batters in 62 1/3 innings and tossed seven complete games.
Still, Strasburg was not drafted out of high school. Asked what he had to do to get where he is now, Strasburg said: "I had to get tougher both mentally and physically. It came down to, if you want something bad enough, you have to go out and get it."
Now that the Draft decision is behind them, the next big task for the Nationals is signing Strasburg. He is expected to ask for as much as $50 million-plus, which would be a new record for a baseball Draft pick.
After taking Aaron Crow with the team's first-round pick last year, Washington didn't reach a deal when the asking price was a little more than $4 million.
Rizzo is optimistic an agreement with Strasburg can be reached, but negotiations could go down to the Aug. 17 deadline.
"The Lerners have given me all the resources that I've ever asked for to acquire players, and I think they are committed to putting a championship-caliber team on the field," Rizzo said. "They understand what that means financially, that we have to sign our Draft picks.
"I have every confidence that they are going to give us the resources to sign all the players that we need to sign in this year's Draft."
Talks between Strasburg's advisor, Scott Boras, and the Nationals are expected to be helped in part because of Rizzo, who has negotiated contracts with Boras in the past. While with Arizona, Rizzo was able to sign D-backs infielder Stephen Drew and pitcher Max Scherzer -- both advised by Boras -- to their first professional contracts.
Making their pitch in first round
|Stephen Strasburg was the 14th pitcher taken as the first overall selection since the institution of the First-Year Player Draft in 1965.|
|1973||Rangers||David Clyde||LHP||Westchester H.S. (TX)|
|1976||Astros||Floyd Bannister||LHP||Arizona State Univ.|
|1981||Mariners||Mike Moore||RHP||Oral Roberts Univ.|
|1983||Twins||Tim Belcher||RHP||Mt. Vernon Nazarene Coll.|
|1988||Padres||Andy Benes||RHP||Univ. of Evansville|
|1989||Orioles||Ben McDonald||RHP||Louisiana State Univ.|
|1991||Yankees||Brien Taylor||LHP||East Carteret H.S. (NC)|
|1994||Mets||Paul Wilson||RHP||Florida State Univ.|
|1996||Pirates||Kris Benson||RHP||Clemson Univ.|
|1997||Tigers||Matt Anderson||RHP||Rice Univ.|
|2002||Pirates||Bryan Bullington||RHP||Ball State Univ.|
|2006||Royals||Luke Hochevar||RHP||Univ. of Tennessee|
|2007||Devil Rays||David Price||LHP||Vanderbilt Univ.|
|2009||Nationals||Stephen Strasburg||RHP||San Diego State Univ.|
"It's now in Washington's hands -- which is how it should be," Commissioner Bud Selig said after announcing all the first-round picks. "They know what Draft choices have gotten in the past. There's nothing more to say. It's in the capable hands of Mr. [Stan] Kasten and Mr. Rizzo."
Selig said the process of signing Draft picks "needs tweaking, but I'll leave it at that."
When asked if the recession could impact the negotiations, Selig said: "The economy has had an effect on every person living in this country. What effect it will have on this, I don't know."
John Hart, the former GM who spent more than two decades working the Draft, served as analyst for MLB Network during this event and said a matter-of-fact "no" when asked if he sees a smooth resolution to the Strasburg signing.
"No. I don't think it's going to be easy," Hart said after the end of the first round. "But that's the nature of this. You end up drafting players you think will be tough signs. We'll just have to see."
If the Nationals don't sign Strasburg by the deadline, they will lose his Draft rights and get the second pick in the 2010 Draft.
If he signs quickly enough, Strasburg will start in the Minor Leagues and could get a callup in September. He will strengthen an already solid pitching lineup in the farm system, where the Nationals have a number of prospects.
On the Major League level, the Nationals' young starting rotation is comprised of a quartet of rookies (Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler, Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann) and second-year left-hander John Lannan, who has 49 career starts.
Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made it clear he wants Strasburg on the team.
"You have to do it," Zimmerman said. "From what everyone is saying, if you are an organization like we are that is young and moving forward, you have to take the best guy available.
"I think he is head and shoulders above the rest. You are talking about a guy that could be an impact player from the moment you draft him. If you can add that arm to our good young starting staff, we are pretty much set -- knock on wood -- for a long time."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.