Saturday, May 2, 2009

Could Strasburg go straight to the majors?

There have been 20 players during the draft era who made their major league debuts without spending a day in the minor leagues. In fact, here's the list if you want to check them out. There are several San Diego connections, which I'll get to later.

The reason for the topic today is increasing talk that San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg could go straight to the major leagues. I've heard it mentioned here and there during the season. ESPN's Buster Olney mentions it here among today's blog items.

I don't know that anyone would argue about Strasburg being ready for the big leagues.

"He's further along at 20 than any young pitcher I've ever seen," said SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. "I didn't see some of the great, great ones, but for a 20-year-old junior to be out there recognizing that they're cheating on the fastball and just drop that slider right on them, then a change-up and then a 99 (mph fastball) on the black . . . ."

Gwynn just shakes his head.

"He's the perfect example of a guy who makes what I do so much fun," said Gwynn, "because when he came in here as a freshman, there's no way anybody saw what's happening now back then. I'm not going to tell you I did. I didn't see it. You've got to be kidding me. He was throwing 90, 91. What's the big deal? I was telling Rusty (Filter, SDSU's pitching coach), 'There's a whole bunch of guys who throw 90. This guy?' Three years later . . . ."

Strasburg has been the consensus No. 1 overall choice for the 2009 draft since well before the season, back to last summer when he was a member of the U.S. Olympic team. Going 10-0 with a 1.38 ERA, 147 strikeouts and 15 walks in 78.1 innings pitched so far this year has only cemented things.

Washington has the first pick in the draft, followed by Seattle and then San Diego. Could contract demands (the $50 million figure thrown around two months ago is insane, of course) or some other issue cause him to drop in the draft. Maybe. But talent-wise he is head and shoulders above any other player in the draft.

What if Strasburg was to somehow slip to the Padres at No. 3? I asked Gwynn where Strasburg would fit into the Padres' rotation if he joined the team this summer.

"Three," said Gwynn, who would put Strasburg right behind Jake Peavy and Chris Young.

"If he went to Seattle, he'd be three.

"If he goes to Washington, he'd be one."


"That's how I look at it," said Gwynn. "Now he's still got stuff he's got to learn. He's got to challenge the strike zone a little bit more at the big-league level."

But Strasburg's ready to go straight to the major leagues.

The last time I heard this kind of talk was during Mark Prior's junior year at USC in 2001. And perhaps Prior was polished enough to go straight to the major leagues. Prior had pretty absurd numbers too, going 15-1 with a 1.69 ERA, 202 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 138.2 innings. Baseball America called him the greatest college pitcher ever.

But there were a few things that prevented Prior from going straight to the majors. First of all, Prior was already well over 100 innings pitched for the Trojans, who reached the College World Series that season, when he was selected by the Chicago Cubs with the draft's second pick (the Twins took Joe Mauer with the first pick). And joining the team late in the season was out of the question when contract negotiations dragged on before Prior signed a deal in the fall that included a record $10.5 million signing bonus. Prior looked good during spring training in 2002, but the decision was made to give him a few starts in the minors. It turned out to be nine starts. Prior dominated and made his major league debut with the Cubs by late May.

Draft rules changed two years ago and teams now have until just August 15 to sign players. That means there would still be plenty of season remaining to showcase Strasburg. The question would be how many more innings a team would want to put on his arm after the college season (Strasburg will probably have pitched more than 100 innings for the Aztecs) and how ready to go Strasburg would be after contract negotiations have concluded.

The last player to go straight to the majors was Cal outfielder Xavier Nady with the Padres in 2000. The Padres also sent Minnesota outfielder Dave Winfield straight to the majors in 1973 and Oregon third baseman Dave Roberts in 1972.

The first player to go straight to the majors was USC pitcher Mike Adamson in 1967 with the Baltimore Orioles. Adamson was born in San Diego and played high school baseball at Point Loma High. In 1970, Stanford pitcher Steve Dunning went straight to the majors with the Cleveland Indians. Dunning prepped at University of San Diego High School.

1 comment:

Xeifrank said...

Intersting concept, but I don't think Strasburg is going to pitch in the majors this year. What incentive would the Nationals have in doing this? Maybe a slight financial one in attendance for the one or two games he would pitch in, but a giant risk in having him get injured. The injury risk would be high due to the fact that contract negotiations would likely take a long time between Boras and a team like the Nationals. Strasburg would then be shut down for weeks or even a month and then asked to pitch again at the major league level. I just don't see that as worth the risk. A player like Strasburg is a huge financial undertaking for a major league team, especially the Nationals who aren't a large market club. They would be so much better off to let him make the team out of spring training next year and just shut him down after the college season is over.
vr, Xei