On cusp of callup, Strasburg braced for hype
Nats phenom hopes to help buck trend of pitchers picked 1-1
It's always seemed to be a matter of when, and not if, Stephen Strasburg would ascend to the Major Leagues in 2010. Now, as he's set to make his fourth Triple-A start on Monday night, that when appears to be a whole lot closer.
The top pick in last year's Draft has yet to give up a run since being promoted to Triple-A Syracuse, a span of 18 1/3 innings. During that time, he's allowed only four hits for a .068 average against while walking four and striking out 22. If those numbers provide proof to some that the right-hander is ready to join the Nationals staff in Washington, that might be accurate in the very near future. It has been reported that Strasburg will pitch for the Nats against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, June 4, though that hasn't been confirmed.
Whether it's a week from Friday or a few weeks down the road, it's fairly evident that Strasburg's time as a Minor Leaguer will be coming to a close sooner rather than later. To date, he's been as good, if not better, than advertised, with a combined 0.89 ERA, .123 batting average against, 10 walks and 49 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings as he heads into Monday night's start against the Toledo Mud Hens (7 p.m. ET, MiLB.TV).
Pitchers taken No. 1 overall
When that call does come, he'll face a whole new wave of hype and expectations, a sensation that only a select few pitchers can completely relate to. Just 13 other pitchers have been taken with the first overall selection since the Draft began in 1965. To say it's been a mixed bag would be an understatement, with underwhelming results the rule rather than the exception. Two of them, however, are still developing and hoping to reverse that trend with better performances in the big leagues.
Luke Hochevar was the Royals' top selection, and No. 1 overall, in 2006. The right-hander has struggled to find consistency at the big league level with a career 17-28 record and 5.80 ERA. While he's got a 5.37 ERA this year and struggled with his command, taking out one nine-run, 2 2/3-inning start brings that down to a much more respectable 4.01. He's found that since his own demands for excellence are so high, what other people think he should accomplish based on being a No. 1 pick pale in comparison.
"As long as my expectations are higher than everyone else's, it doesn't matter," said Hochevar. "If I'm not living up to my own expectations, then I need to get it done in another regard. Just because that's where I was taken, does it add any more pressure? No. If anyone else's expectations are higher than your own, you've got a real problem.
"As long as you keep things in perspective and understand what you need to do to get to where you want to go, then it's pretty simple."
David Price followed Hochevar as a top pick in 2007. The lefty pitched less than a full year before making his stirring debut in the big leagues at the end of '08, dominating in a relief role. Think just getting called up to the Majors is a big enough thrill? Consider where Price began his career and how that added to the excitement.
"I made [my debut[ at Yankee Stadium," Price recalled. "It was a big thing. That's what I had been playing for all my life."
Price, of course, returned to being a starter in his official rookie year and it was a bit uneven. The lefty did win 10 games but finished with a 4.42 ERA in 23 starts. This year, however, he's threatening to turn the "jinx" of being a No. 1 pitcher on its head by getting off to a 7-1, 2.41 ERA start. While it didn't quite reach Strasburg levels, there was quite a bit of hype surrounding Price. He admits to feeling it, though having gone through big league camp that spring helped him feel a little more at ease.
"A little," Price said about the No. 1-related pressure. "I was pitching against the same guys I had faced in Spring Training."
Strasburg did have a little taste of that this spring as well, making three appearances for the Nationals during Grapefruit Legue play, facing the Tigers once and the Cardinals twice.
The opponent on that June 4 game that Strasburg is rumored to start is the Cincinnati Reds, though as Hochevar points out, with what Strasburg is able to do, it might not matter so much who he's facing on any given day.
"He's got some serious stuff," Hochevar said "The kid is talented. There's no doubt about that.
"I'm excited to see his progress and how well he does. Obviously he's done well at every level, which he should probably do the same thing at the big league level, too. With that kind of stuff and makeup, he's going to be really good for a really long time."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.