The 2009 amateur draft is a long way off, but it's already likely to be the highlight of the year in Washington, where the lowly Nationals will get to make the No. 1 overall selection. That day in June will most definitely be the highlight of the year for Stephen Strasburg -- the pitching phenom from San Diego State, who even six months away from draft day, looks like a lock to go first.
There was some talk out of San Diego in the past week that Strasburg could slip to his hometown Padres at No. 3, but Dave Sheinin of the Washington Postdouses that fire.
As we stand here today, nearly six months away from the draft, Strasburg remains the top name on the Nationals' draft board. When I asked a team official about this recently, I was told they consider Strasburg by far the best player in the nation, and for the Nationals to pass on him would take something extraordinary to happen, such as a major injury.
It would have been a nice story for Strasburg to start his professional career in the place where he was born, but, barring catastrophe, it's just not going to happen. The Nationals are in dire need of some good PR and Strasburg is just the guy who can give it to them.
Washington is coming off a dismal 102-loss season -- the worst in franchise history since 1976. It opened a brand new ballpark, but the first-year attendance figures were underwhelming and the TV and radio ratings were worse. On top of all that, the Nats failed to sign 2008 first-round pick Aaron Crow.
Strasburg could help wash away some of the bad vibes. He's a tremendous talent -- 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, with an electric fastball that reaches the upper-90s in velocity. Just to give you an idea of his potential, last April he struck out 23 hitters in a complete game one-hitter against Utah, and that was just a week after a viral infection in his ear played havoc with his equilibrium and forced him to miss a start.
Strasburg is probably the most highly regarded college pitcher since Mark Prior. All jokes about Prior aside, that's not the type of talent you pass up in the draft, especially if you're looking to generate some goodwill among an increasingly disinterested fanbase.