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One great debut; now what?

Mar 10, 2010, 12:14 AM EDT


Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg couldn't have done much more in his spring training debut.

VIERA, Fla. — It lasted all of 20 minutes, included only 27 pitches (21 fastballs, four breaking balls, two change-ups) and was witnessed by 4,305 fans, several dozen scouts, two rosters full of players and an overflowing press box at Space Coast Stadium.

And when the first two innings of Stephen Strasburg's professional career were complete, when the shock and awe of watching a 21-year-old make All-Star big-league hitters look silly with a repertoire of four "plus" pitches, there was really only one question left to ask.

Is this guy ready to pitch in the major leagues right now?

Since the day they drafted him first in the country and then handed him a record $15.1 million contract, the Nationals have made it clear they don't want to rush Strasburg. They respect the development process that has been in place for 100 years, and he needs to experience it just like everyone else. He'll be in the big leagues this year, probably before the All-Star break. But his chance of cracking the Opening Day rotation is tissue-paper thin.

And then after two years of hype, Strasburg actually faced major-league hitters for the first time and dominated them like they were juniors at Colorado State, not the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters for the DetroitRead more »

  1. MikeHarris - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:27 AM

    Watching the replay now – he struck the guy out again with that great breaking ball.I think I'm in love.

  2. Andrew - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:27 AM

    Watching it on MASN. Very nice debut!

  3. TBC - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:45 AM

    It's not Riggleman's call, it's Rizzo's. So pay no attention to nuances of what Riggleman might say. Rizzo is not going to bring Strasburg up until after the date when he's not a super two. No way, no how. No ifs ands or buts. Rizzo wants to still be GM of this team when Strasburg hits free agency. Riggleman may be long gone by then. Riggleman may need to win now, but Rizzo doesn't.

  4. Andrew - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:03 AM

    I enjoyed watching Nyjer at the 47 minute mark of the game sliding feet first into 2nd on the steal!!!!!!!

  5. Andrew - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:04 AM

    TBC – Really good points!

  6. Dave Nichols - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:10 AM

    the other thing about starting in the minors: it will be easier to limit his innings pitched. he's going to be on a innings limit this season regardless of where he starts, and you can flat out tell the manager in Harrisburg that he throws five innings tonight and not a pitch more. tougher to do that in the majors where you're looking to get 7+ out of him every start.

  7. Andrew - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:27 AM

    Dave, watch the PNats Stadium empty out after the 5th inning when Strasburg pitches!Its a good strategy to save those innings for the Major Leagues. What will his 2010 inning count be? 160 inning range I would guess. 10 to 12 starts in the Minors?So 55 Minor League innings leaves you 14 to 16 Major League starts before the 160 innings are reached if you figure 6 to 7 innings per MLB start.What do you think?

  8. Avar - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:37 AM

    #3 is the only reason they should not start him in the bigs. Maybe I just understand it but I'm not at all persuaded by #1 and #2. What's to learn? You go where they tell and do what they tell you. It's not like to throw a bullpen, he has to go rent a field and hire a catcher. Although he did that over the winter. Two days after he starts, the coach says, you're throwing a bullpen today. So, he gets up and throws a bullpen. What's to learn? I don't get it.#3 is totally legit but if he does this same type of performance for the rest of spring, it is going to be really hard to keep him in the minors. And will get even tougher if they don't win in April. Guys become Super 2s because they dominate the minors and force the team to call them up. No team wants to do that but if he dominates, it gets harder to pull off.

  9. Wally - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:59 AM

    Maybe I misunderstand the rules, but I don't think that Super 2 status matters in this situation. Super two status gives the player a right to arbitration in his third year (rather than the normal fourth year), instead of the team unilaterally renewing his contract. In Strasburg's case, his salary is set for the next 5 years through the major league contract that he signed in August, so having the right to go to arbitration a year early has no practical effect.On the other hand, starting him in the minors for a while gives the team an extra year of control before he hits free agency (7 years instead of 6), which is a very important right that the team should take advantage of, since arbitration in almost all cases results in lower pay than free agency (even before taking into account length of contract), and their prospects in 2016 have got to be better than 2010. I don't know how long that has to be for the deferral to take place, but it isn't as long as it would be to avoid Super Two status.But I do think that there is real value for giving SS the time to build up arm strength every 5 days outside the pressure of the major leagues, especially if he is the guy that they look to for stopping losing streaks. That is how overuse happens, I think.

  10. Anonymous - Mar 10, 2010 at 2:18 AM

    Not trying to be Debbie Downer, but:for those baseball fans who know that Strasburg's super-skills allows him to take a priviledged short-cut road to the big show…please watch the movie "Sugar" (now in regular rotation on HBO). It shows what happens to the so many many more of the regular MLB draftee/signees trying to break in (esp. Caribbeans)

  11. peric - Mar 10, 2010 at 2:22 AM

    Looking at the guy **I kept asking about** left-handed Aaron Thompson. Looks like he needs to be placed back in the upper tier on the prospect radar.Let's give Rizzo some Kudos now … imagine this rotation: Strasburg, Chapman, Thompson, Zimmermann (before injury after recovery?), Lannan , and [Mock, Martin, Stammen]NEXT YEAR. Probably gives Rizzo a fit thinking about losing Chapman to Bowden's favorite team. With a decent relief staff, which they are getting closer to, that looks like a rotation that could potentially carry a team pretty far into the playoffs? It was THAT close … I swear Bowden must have had something to do with …

  12. Anonymous - Mar 10, 2010 at 3:22 AM

    Great game. I don't know where this "once-in-a-generation" stuff is coming from. I didn't see anything from him that I didn't see from Mark Prior just a few years ago. But certainly it'd be foolish to send him to the minors, he is clearly one of the best five pitchers on the team.

  13. peric - Mar 10, 2010 at 3:31 AM

    On SI they are comparing Chapman to Herb Score … which is basically a Sandy Koufax. Be interesting to read an objective scouts' analysis comparing and contrasting Strasburg with left-handed Chapman.

  14. JohninMPLS - Mar 10, 2010 at 3:51 AM

    I've said before that I'll be perfectly happy if he doesn't play a single game for Washington in 2010.Reading this summary definitely challenged that. It's hard to know there's someone like that within the organization and not getting to see him in the bigs. And really, I don't have the opportunity to catch any of the minor league games.

  15. Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me - Mar 10, 2010 at 5:07 AM

    He can't start the year in the bigs. Takes away innings from Matt Chico.

  16. John - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    If Willingham keeps giving up runs in left field as he stumbles for balls hit to his left, then Nats pitchers better be good, very good, and hope their fly balls go to center and right.

  17. court - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    I've changed my mind on this arbitration-clock thing. If he is what we think he is, the club will most likely extend him and buyout some, if not all of his arbitration years. It's happening all over baseball from Lincecum to Howard to Longoria to Zimmerman. I believe Strasburg's current contract takes him thru '12 – at that point, if he's all that, a bag of chips and an orange soda, then he'll get extended. I dare say Mr. Strasburg will never see the inside of an arbitration hearing.Having said that, I think getting into the 5-day routine will be what keeps him in the minors. But I think he'll only be down for a month or so – maybe 5 starts, then we'll see him closer to Memorial Day than Independence Day.

  18. Anonymous8 - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    John said… If Willingham keeps giving up runs in left field as he stumbles for balls hit to his left, then Nats pitchers better be good, very good, and hope their fly balls go to center and right.Every ball in the air towards Josh seems to be an adventure as he goes after a ball. If his offense is good enough, the questionable defense and range is a tradeoff.

  19. Anonymous - Mar 10, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    Peric, slow down on Thompson. for one thing JD Martin might be getting jealous. He tops out at 88-90 so listing him ahead of Zimmermann (and Lannan for that matter) in your rotation is a bit much.

  20. TBC - Mar 10, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    I dare say Mr. Strasburg will never see the inside of an arbitration hearing.That's not the issue. Whether it's bought out or not, an arbitration year is an arbitration year. And when the last arbitration year is done, the player becomes a free agent. By delaying Strasburg's big league debut until sometime in June, the Nats can push his first free agency out another year. That's exactly what they should be doing, keeping him under team control as long as possible. All going to arbitration or buying him out of arbitration years does is affect the method by which his salary gets determined during those years and how much he gets paid. The important thing is that he's not allowed to negotiate with any other teams for as long as possible.

  21. nattaboy - Mar 10, 2010 at 3:00 PM

    Mark,I just wanted to say I appreciated your following up with olsen yesterday to ask if his arm felt good the day after starting. I was really interested in that and nobody else had it. Call him up the second he misses being super 2. I think it's what should and will happen.Go Nats!

  22. JCA - Mar 10, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    Mark – all they need to do is delay his call up to 4/18, the first time they need a 5th starter, to gain an extra year before free agency. this is exactly what they did with Jordan Zimmermann last year, when his first start was scheduled for 4/19. Regular season ends on 10/3. A year is 172 days for major league service according to Cots's summary of the MLB Contract (I'm could not find it quickly in the contract). Doing the math, 3 for October, another 153 for May through September, add in another 13 days for April 18 (date of activation) through 4/30 makes 169 days, which keeps him from getting a full year's service time in 2010. He will not have 6 years at the end of 2015, so we get to keep him for 2016.There is no need to have him on the roster before 4/18. They need a 5thstarter once up in Citifield, but a long man like Stammen or JD Martin can have that start.

  23. Anonymous - Mar 10, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    No doubt the kid's got electric stuff. But several times I noticed him tip his pitches with his glove movements and I don't care WHO in the bigs you're facing, they can and will make life miserable, even for a kid with a thunderbolt for an arm. He still has a lot of work to do.

  24. TBC - Mar 10, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    JCA, I think the Super 2 thing is more complicated than you have laid it out. From mlb.com:A: A player with three or more years of service, but less than six years, may file for salary arbitration. In addition, a player can be classified as a "Super Two" and be eligible for arbitration with less than three years of service. A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 17 percent in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.Sounds to me that it's not strictly the player's service time that does or doesn't make him a Super 2, it's how his service time stacks up relative to the other players who have two but less than three years of service. If they bring him up in April, he could easily fall in the top 17% and become a Super 2. That's why I think it's much more likely that he won't be brought up until June or later, once it's absolutely clear that he won't be in the top 17%.

  25. Sasskuash - Mar 10, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    I have a different understanding of how "Super Two" arbitration process works vs. how long the player is under team control than has been discussed on this post:1) "Super Two" players do not automatically hit Free Agency earlier than a "normal" player. They simply get an extra year of arbitration- they will go through arbitration 4 times, not 3. This does not matter for Strasburg or the Nats, since his MLB contract bought out a potential "super two" year and the first year of arbitration.2) A player hits FA when he has accumulated 6 years of service time. A "year" of service time is considered 172 days of service time. Though there are usually about 180-185 actual days in a regular season, a player cannot earn more than 172 "service time" days in a single season. (Service time is any day spent on the MLB roster or the 15 day DL or the 60 day DL. There are other caveats and restrictions too)Whether Strasburg is a "super two" or not does not make him automatically eligible for free agency a year sooner. As long as the Nats can keep him under 172 days of "service time" this season, he will not get his first year service time completed until next season. If I'm understanding the rules correctly, the Nats could promote him after the April 15, and they would control him through the 2016 season because he would not aqcuire a full year of service time until 2011. If they promote him on or before April 15, they risk Strasburg accumulating a year worth of service time in 2010 at which point he would be a Free Agent after the 2015 season. If they bring him up in late April or early May, he would likely be eligable for "Super Two" arbitration status, but not gain free agency a year earlier. (My math: April 16-30 = 15 days +31 in May +30 June + 31 July + 31 August + 30 Sept. + 3 October = 171 days). If I am incorrect about this, please let me know and point me to a link that will clarify whatever mistake I've made. It's definitely a complicated system! Thanks

  26. Sasskuash - Mar 10, 2010 at 4:04 PM

    JCA and I agree (with a 3 day margin of error)!

  27. Anonymous - Mar 10, 2010 at 6:35 PM

    I believe everyone needs some time in the minors. Paul Menhart said Stephen is not used to deciding his own pitches that in college the pitching coach called them, he needs to get in a zone and KNOW what to call, not wait for the catcher to tell him what to throw every pitch. As Zim said Stephen needs to get used to the professional routine.Stephen also needs to get in major league condition from what I saw in Viera he was hands on his knees after a lot of drills where most others were not showing any signs of fatigue.I say a June or July call-up is good for him.What is his inning ceiling for 2010? howe many innings did he throw last year, college plus Fall League?

  28. Anonymous - Mar 10, 2010 at 7:01 PM

    TBC, stop bringing up Super 2. It's not going to happen because Strasburg's contract is already bought out for that year. All the nats have to worry about is that extra year before Free Agency.

  29. NatsGirl - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:51 PM

    FWIW, as someone who deals with a *lot* of young people on a daily basis, Strasburg needs some time in the minors to, if nothing else, grow up a bit. He's not in college any more; no more classes, no more dorms, no more someone looking over your shoulder telling you what to do every minute of the day. Baseball is his job now and he needs to get a handle on that, just like every other ballplayer before him. As other have pointed out, putting him in the minors also gives the team a better opportunity to limit his pitch count and innings (I, for one, would REALLY hate to see him end up on the DL next year because he wore out that nice, expensive arm); the Nats are going to suck this year, so why waste him in DC when he could be honing his craft in Syracuse–it's warm enough there in the summer for those of you concerned about his arm in the cold weather;and it lets the team keep him under lock and key for a little longer.When it comes down to it, these guys are commodities; they're bought and sold and traded like used cars or stock options. Rizzo and Kasten should be thinking about wear and tear on their new "baby" and worrying about the best way to protect him/it and keep him for as long as they can. Apologies if I sound like a hardass…just taking another look.

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