Can Power Pitcher Strasburg Live Up To Hype?

He has been dubbed the greatest pitching prospect to come out of college in a generation. Now he has been chosen No. 1 by the Washington Nationals in the baseball draft. So can Stephen Strasburg live up to the hype? Guy Raz finds out from Aaron Fitt, who covers colleges for Baseball America.

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GUY RAZ, host:

A tall and lanky 20-year-old might just become the savior of baseball's lowliest team. This week, the Washington Nationals chose San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg as the number one pick in Major League Baseball's annual draft.

Now, over the years, promising rookies have come and gone, but there is near universal consensus about Strasburg. He's being called the greatest pitching prospect in a generation. And why? Well, for starters, he can throw a fastball 103 miles an hour. Not many pros can do that. And about a month before draft day, with scouts watching closely, Strasburg struck out 17 batters in a game against the Air Force Academy on his way to a no-hitter.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #1: Now, one, two pitch. Wider strike three ball. A no-hitter. The man who has rewritten the history books of San Diego State has just topped it off with the greatest history of all.

(Soundbite of applause)

RAZ: Can you say chi-ching? Stephen Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras, is said to be looking for a six-year contract worth around $50 million. Reporter Aaron Fitt has been following all of this for Baseball America, and I asked him if Strasburg lives up to the hype.

Mr. AARON FITT: He's the real deal. There's no question about that. He's got the best fastball in this draft. He's got the best breaking ball in this draft. And he's got the best command in this draft. That's a package you just don't see very often, and that's what makes him so special. You do hear players talk about him in almost hushed reverential tones because, you know, they just walk away shaking their heads. He struck out 23 guys last year in one game against Utah. Twenty-three guys in one game. I mean, after that...

RAZ: Wow.

Mr. FITT: ...I mean, I remember reading players' quotes, they were all just dumbfounded.

RAZ: So, is he good enough to turn around the Washington Nationals? I mean, one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball?

Mr. FITT: He is unquestionably a cornerstone piece for them. He is a guy who will be a number starter unless he gets hurt. I mean the Nationals right now, their rotation is probably headed by a guy who'd be a number three or a number four starter on a lot of teams. So, you throw this guy out there, it just - it changes everything.

RAZ: Now, normally, after a draft, a player comes to the team, but they're usually sent to the Minor Leagues for a season or two. You're saying that you think Stephen Strasburg is ready to go to the Major Leagues next season and even to start?

Mr. FITT: I'll tell you what. If you put him in the big leagues tomorrow, he could get guys out. He'd be all right. I'm not saying they should do that. I think needs some - a little bit of seasoning would do him some good. You got to do things a little bit differently when you're facing those more advanced hitters. But he is good enough today to pitch in the big leagues.

RAZ: Now, let step back for a moment and sort of try to look at this hype from a different perspective, which is there was a player in 2001, Mark Prior, who also was very much hyped. He ended up having this injury-plagued shortened career. Now, we're talking about Stephen Strasburg maybe earning, you know, $50 million over a six-year period. I mean, is there a possibility he might end up like Mike Prior?

Mr. FITT: I think there is that possibility, and that's why the Nationals need to be really careful with him. I think, personally, that the big reason Prior broke down is because of the way the Cubs used him in their post-season run in 2003. They leaned on him very heavily, and he was never the same guy after that. Throwing a baseball is a very unnatural motion, and it puts a lot of strain on your arm.

RAZ: Tell me a little bit about Scott Boras, the super agent who is representing Stephen Strasburg. He is known to drive a hard bargain, to say the least.

Mr. FITT: Yeah, he is really ruthless. There are certain organizations that tried to avoid working with his clients at all cost. He is going to ask for 40 or $50 million. The Nationals are probably going to come back with here's, you know, 12 to 15. And I think it's going to be a very high stakes game of chicken here, and eventually, somebody is going to blink.

RAZ: I mean, they have until mid August to sign Strasburg or else the Nationals lose their rights to sign him, right?

Mr. FITT: That's right. They've got to sign him by the August 17th deadline. And if they don't, then he'll go back into the draft next year. And that's actually what happened with them last year. They lost their first-round pick, Aaron Crow, number nine over all. You know, they really don't want that to happen again because their fan base will revolt. I mean, the attendance is already dwindling.

They've got a brand-new ballpark and nobody goes to it. There's so much buildup for this guy. I mean, even the casual baseball fans know Stephen Strasburg. They've got to sign this guy. And Boras and Strasburg know they've got to sign him. So, somewhere in the middle here, they're going to have to meet.

RAZ: Aaron Fitt writes for Baseball America. He joined us from Omaha, Nebraska. Mr. Fitt, thanks so much.

Mr. FITT: All right, any time.

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