Strasburg easy choice in MLB draft

Published 3:21 am Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) — With his 100 mph fastball, Stephen Strasburg has all but eliminated any mystery about which player will be picked first by the Washington Nationals in the baseball draft Tuesday night.

Barring a big surprise, the suspense begins at No. 2.

‘‘Oh, it’s a terrific drop-off,’’ Los Angeles Angels scouting director Eddie Bane said. ‘‘You don’t want to admit that, but this guy, like everybody said, is a once-in-a-lifetime guy.’’

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While Strasburg was striking out overmatched college hitters at San Diego State, major league teams spent the spring sorting through the best of the rest, including North Carolina slugger Dustin Ackley, Missouri right-hander Kyle Gibson and high school outfielder Donavan Tate.

New general manager Jack Zduriencik and the Seattle Mariners pick second, followed by San Diego, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

But once Strasburg comes off the board, it’s a fickle class of prospects that’s drawn mixed reviews.

‘‘I think it’s a more unpredictable draft than any I’ve been involved with,’’ Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said. ‘‘Usually it gets down to about the middle of the first round where you get the first ’oooh,’ where they took that guy there. I think the ooohs and aaahs could start earlier.’’

Tampa Bay had the top pick each of the past two years, but the defending AL champions won’t make their first selection Tuesday until No. 30.

Teams like the Padres, Pirates and Orioles will be looking to snap up future stars who can help turn around their franchises, just as Tampa Bay did with a string of top-10 picks over the past decade.

‘‘It’s an opportunity to infuse new talent into the organization,’’ said Mike Hill, general manager of the penny-pinching Florida Marlins. ‘‘Obviously for a club like us, it’s very important.’’

And some of these kids aren’t too far from the big leagues.

Gordon Beckham became the fourth member of last year’s draft class to reach the majors when he was called up by the Chicago White Sox last week.

David Price, Rick Porcello and Matt Wieters were all selected in 2007.

Maybe that’s one reason the baseball draft seems to be gaining more attention. Only a few years ago, the entire event was held in virtual obscurity via conference call.

David Wright recalled hustling home from a high school exam and listening on the Internet as the New York Mets made him the 38th pick in 2001.

‘‘Made it home just in time to hear my name called,’’ Wright said. ‘‘Something I’ll never forget.’’

Now, the top prospects can watch on television as the baseball draft goes prime time for the first time.

With commissioner Bud Selig announcing picks from the podium, the first round will be broadcast live by MLB Network from its New Jersey studios beginning at 6 p.m.

The only thing missing is a Green Room stuffed with antsy prospects wearing flashy suits.

‘‘I’ve noticed that there’s interest in the draft this year that there never has been. And most of it’s because of Stephen,’’ Bane said. ‘‘You’ve got a guy in there who throws 102 mph — legitimately — so I guess that has something to do with it.’’

Bane and the Angels have five of the first 48 selections, some as compensation for losing free agents Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez and Jon Garland.

The Nationals are the first team to own a pair of picks in the top 10. They get the 10th choice as compensation for failing to sign their selection at No. 9 last year, Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow.

After pitching for the Fort Worth Cats in an independent minor league, Crow is back in the draft pool and could be a high pick again.

Right-hander Tanner Scheppers went a similar independent route. He was drafted 48th overall by Pittsburgh last year after a shoulder injury sidelined him at Fresno State, but the Pirates didn’t sign him.

‘‘You have to draft a lot of pitching to come up with pitching,’’ said Logan White, Los Angeles Dodgers assistant general manager, scouting. ‘‘You have to be willing to take the risk on a pitcher, not be squeamish, and hope you project him right. But a lot of people are squeamish because of the injury factor.’’

In addition to the Nationals and Angels (Nos. 24 and 25), three other teams have multiple first-round picks: Seattle (2 and 27), Colorado (11 and 32) and Arizona (16 and 17).

The first night of the draft will consist of 111 picks, completing the first three rounds and compensation slots. There will be 4 minutes between first-round selections, then 1 minute after that.

Rounds 4-50 will be held by conference call over the following two days.

‘‘There’s some good power arms. Good high school position players,’’ Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. ‘‘One of the weaker parts is probably college position players. But there’s a lot of depth really in high school from the pitching and position player side.’’

Of course, signing these prospects can be more difficult than choosing between them, and the current economy could cause teams to shy away from players thought to be seeking the biggest bonuses.

Clubs have until Aug. 15 to sign their picks, otherwise they lose their rights.

So the real challenge for Washington will be inking Strasburg, because agent Scott Boras is sure to request a record contract — perhaps worth approximately $50 million.

Ready to play ball?

‘‘It’s a big game of chicken,’’ Bane said.