21-year-old pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut in front of a sold out Washington crowd Tuesday night and, as he has done again and again, managed to surpass every expectation that comes with being an historical talent. What can we possibly say about Stephen Strasburg that hasn’t already been said about previous hyped, top prospects with great potential?
Needing only 94 pitches, Strasburg made it through seven innings allowing four hits and two runs on a Delwyn Young home run. The fireballer struck out 14 batters without walking anyone and he retired the last ten batters he faced, striking out the last seven.
Drafted first overall by the Washington Nationals in the 2009 MLB amateur draft out of San Diego State and billed as one of the greatest amateur pitchers in draft history, the expectation was that Strasburg would move quickly through the minor leagues and make his debut before the 2010 All-Star break. He did just that, making 11 starts between Double and Triple-A, posting a 7-2 record with a 1.30 ERA, striking out 65, walking 13 in 55.1 IP (one home run allowed). Everyone who saw him pitch came away impressed. Curt Schilling proclaimed Strasburg would be one of the best pitchers in baseball immediately upon arrival and more than a few eyebrows were raised. We even noted how Strasburg would combine with Bryce Harper to form the new faces of the Nats’ franchise.
So what makes Strasburg such a widely-acclaimed talent?
Everything in pitching is contingent upon the fastball and one would have to be living in a cave not to have heard about Strasburg lighting up the radar guns. Against Pittsburgh, Strasburg was regularly in the mid-to-high 90s, even touching triple-digits. I don’t recall seeing one fastball under 94. His delivery is very easy and repeatable, making it possible for him to command the pitch and maintain his velocity deep into the game. What separates Strasburg from other pitchers with velocity, however, is his combination of movement and command. His movement and velocity puts him in a category with someone like Felix Hernandez. It really is unfair for someone to throw so hard and generate such movement, which will lead to broken bats and ground balls aplenty. This is a top of the food chain fastball right now, today.
Strasburg’s best secondary pitch is a hybrid curve-slider. The break on Strasburg’s hybrid is so unique, many scouts differed on what to actually call it. Strasburg throws it so hard and it has such sharp, two-plane movement (it’s a power curve). Again, his command is so great, he can front-door it, backdoor it, wipe it out of the zone, throw it under the hands of left-handed hitters–you name it. Strasburg’s breaking ball is a plus-plus major league pitch.
Strasburg’s changeup is not as far along as the other two pitches, but it shows great potential with very good arm speed and fade. Although he never had much use for the pitch in college, he showed good feel for it in his debut (with the exception being the hanger to Young). I have a great deal of faith that this pitch will develop throughout this first season and before the end of the year, he’ll make some very good hitters look foolish.
With his historical combination of velocity (movement/sink), command ,and plus secondary pitches, this is the best pitching prospect since Felix Hernandez, but he’s a very different animal. Hernandez was 19 when he made his debut. I see Strasburg comparing more to two big-time college pitchers, Mark Prior (obviously) and Justin Verlander. Physically and in terms of repertoire, he compares to Verlander (big fastball, curve and change), but Strasburg is more advanced with his command at the same age. In terms of development and expected performance, I see him coming along like Prior — both were among the best college pitchers of all-time and Strasburg followed a similar development track, etc. The major difference being that Strasburg will not be hung out to dry and over-worked as Prior was in his first full season.
Washington will monitor Strasburg’s development very carefully (almost to a maddening extent). Expect him to pitch around 100 innings this season, barring injury, but they will something to see.
Expect big things from Stephen Strasburg throughout the future.
Photo Credit: Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesGoogle+