Nats excited about Strasburg selection
Players pumped up by what draftee brings to the table
WASHINGTON -- The one thing Nationals utility player Willie Harris knows about Stephen Strasburg is that the former San Diego State pitcher "throws a million miles an hour."
Like the rest of the baseball world, the Nationals have followed the seemingly endless hype and hyperbole surrounding their No. 1 pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
Now, they just hope the hype is real for Strasburg, who was 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 195 strikeouts in his junior season.
"I've looked at a couple clips on YouTube -- I think of his 23-strikeout game [in 2008 vs. Utah]," Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann said. "The way he's hyped up, it seems like he's going to be unbelievable. It's going to be exciting to see where they send him once they sign him."
Whether on YouTube or during some of Strasburg's nationally televised outings, most Nationals players have seen the 20-year-old star pitch.
At the very least, they have heard the glowing reports.
"I saw Virginia beat him -- that's about it," third baseman and former University of Virginia player Ryan Zimmerman said jokingly. "I've seen very little of him, but I've heard a lot about him. For that many people that know baseball to say that many good things about one person -- that speaks volumes about him as a player."
Some scouts believe that Strasburg could make an immediate jump from college to the pros without touching down in the Minors. The last player to make such a leap was Xavier Nady, after being selected 49th overall by the Padres in 2000.
The last-place Nationals could use the publicity boost of such an anticipated talent playing for their Major League roster.
"Hopefully, it will bring a lot of fans out here for us," reliever Joel Hanrahan said. "I look forward to seeing him here, maybe later on in the year."
Though Strasburg is now property of the Nationals organization, his signability may be the biggest obstacle keeping him from being an official member of the Nationals this season.
Last year, the Nationals were unable to sign their first-round pick, Aaron Crow. With agent Scott Boras guiding Strasburg, there is a reported divide between Strasburg's asking price and the amount of money the Nationals are willing to spend.
"If Strasburg becomes our teammate tomorrow, that's a good thing," reliever Jason Bergmann said. "But they have to work out the contract. He's got to sign. If he doesn't sign, this is all for not."
Bergmann, an 11th-rounder in 2002 who has seen Strasburg a few times on television, is hesitant to bill the 6-foot-4 former Aztec as a savior despite him having "good stuff."
"There's a lot of guys I've seen in the Minor Leagues with good stuff that never make it," Bergmann said. "He's got to have it all and he's got to have the right frame of mind to work. He's got to accept failure, he's got to come back from it."
Harris had similar reservations about accepting the hype as gospel before Strasburg steps on a big league mound.
"I don't think its fair to him to put all the pressure on him," Harris said. "Let him get here, get his feet wet and give him an opportunity first before you go putting all the pressure on him. He comes here and starts doing too much, you can ruin a kid like that."
As the Draft took place Tuesday, the Nationals hosted a Draft party in the stadium's Lexus President's Club, which was separated from the team's war room only by a transparent screen.
With the excitement inside, it was easy to forget the Nationals' 15-40 record or the fact that the team should have been playing the Cincinnati Reds through the tunnel and on the field if not for a thunderstorm which delayed play.
With an increased media presence and cameras galore, it was more than just the average Tuesday night game for everybody in the organization.
"It's an immense day, because we have such a talented guy going for us at No. 1," Bergmann said. "It's a big deal for the ownership; it's a big deal for the front office. It's not really going to dramatically affect [the players] right away because I'm not sure if they're going to push him or not."
Mark Selig is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.