Grant Paulsen catches up with a prospect every week on “Minors and Majors,” a weekly baseball talk show on Sirius XM Radio. The show also frequently features Baseball America writers and editors. Now you can read excerpts from these interviews here at BaseballAmerica.com, in case you can’t tune in each Saturday at 8 a.m. Eastern on Sirius channel 210 and XM channel 175.
This installment features San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg, who had already been regarded as the top prospect for the 2009 coming into the season but is quickly becoming the most hyped draft prospect since Mark Prior.
Grant Paulsen: How do you explain your dominance so far this season?
Stephen Strasburg: I just feel like I’ve been able to command my pitches better than I was last year. I’ve added a new sinker to the mix as well, and I’ve just been able to go out there and keep the guys I’m facing off balance.
Paulsen: Tell me more about the sinker you’ve added.
Strasburg: Well I call it a one-seamer. I throw it in there and it dives down and in on righthanders. On a good day it sits anywhere from 95 to 97 mph.
Paulsen: How often do you throw it?
Strasburg: This year a lot of teams are coming out and anticipating fastballs being thrown early in counts, so they’ve been swinging a lot early on. I’ve been incorporating the sinker a lot, mostly early, because I’m just trying to get quicker outs and let the ball get put in play so that my defense can do its work.
Paulsen: Do you marvel at your stats this spring like the rest of us do?
Strasburg: I mean, not really. I just go out there and try to do my job and try to keep my team in the ball game. So far it’s worked out really well, but let me tell you, not everything is going to be that easy. I don’t anticipate the strikeout numbers to be like they have been every time out. There are going to be nights when you have your stuff and some when you don’t, and when you’ll have to really go out there and pitch. I understand that and so I just go out there focusing on keeping my team in the ball game.
Paulsen: Is it safe to say that one problem with dominating is that pitchers can fall in love with the strikeout?
Strasburg: Absolutely. Especially when you get greedy and try to make a perfect pitch to get a swing and miss. That isn’t the smartest way to pitch because if you make a mistake it can be put in play. It’s really all about making smart, quality pitches. Making good pitches, I’d say, not about making the perfect ones.
Paulsen: Describe your mentality on the mound for the people who haven’t seen you pitch.
Strasburg: I’d like to think that I’m a fierce competitor who goes out there every time out expecting to win. I don’t like getting hit and I don’t expect to get hit, but I understand that it’s part of the game. The main thing for me is to just go out there and give everything that I’ve got behind every single pitch.
Paulsen: I’ve read that you showed a lot of emotion when you were pitching in high school. That’s no longer the case. What’s changed?
Strasburg: I definitely think I keep it all bottled in. I try to keep a level head out there and just show that I’m composed no matter what happens out there on the field. I think it’s just the maturing process that’s happened to me over the last two years and this year. It’s just a mentality that you go out there with. I go out there with the confidence that no matter what situation I’m in, I can get out of it.
Paulsen: Some pitchers yell and fist pump after a big pitch or strikeout. What are your thoughts on that trait, which a lot of the game’s young pitchers share?
Strasburg: Clearly it works for a lot of guys, and it can help to get a team pumped up too. But for me that isn’t really my style. I’m just satisfied striking somebody out or getting an out and getting our team in the dugout so we can get the bats going.
Paulsen: What do you do for fun when you aren’t at the ballpark?
Strasburg: I like to go play golf. I like to play video games and watch movies as well. A lot of times when we’re not playing, especially right now, a lot of the guys from the team will hang out together. We’ve got a great team chemistry here and it’s great to be able to relax and get away from the ballfield every now and then.
Paulsen: What’s the video game of choice?
Strasburg: It’s actually NCAA College Football ’09, so it’s pretty intense.
Paulsen: Does your coach at San Diego State, Tony Gwynn, ever get on the X-Box 360 and play with you guys?
Strasburg: (Laughs.) I think he’s pretty old school, so I don’t know about that. I’m not too sure if he’s really up to date with all of the video game stuff.
Paulsen: I’m picturing you and a few of the other guys hanging out and watching Tony Gwynn jam to Guitar Hero. You haven’t been able to arrange that yet?
Strasburg: (Laughs.) No, not yet. I’m sure he’d like that, though. He likes his Michael Jackson. That’s our big BP mix and he really likes to sing along to it, so that’s pretty fun.
Paulsen: What songs does he sing to?
Strasburg: I really don’t know because I’m not a big Michael Jackson fan so I can’t even name them. There’s a lot of his songs on there, though. It’s a little bit repetitive because we’ve had the same BP mix since I’ve been here, but I’m getting kind of used to it I guess.
Paulsen: You mentioned golf. If you could go golfing with any three people, who would you pick to round out your foursome?
Strasburg: I definitely would have to start with my dad. I’ve always been playing with him. I think playing with Tiger Woods would be pretty special, just so I could see how he does his work out there. And you know, I think the last spot would be a toss-up between Jake Peavy or Josh Beckett. I really idolize those guys and I feel like I’m able to learn a lot from them and the way they attack hitters.
Paulsen: Give people who haven’t seen you pitch an idea of what you throw and when.
Strasburg: It really depends on the hitter. If I feel like it’s a hitter that can hit my fastball, then I like to establish a slider away early on. Then eventually come back to try to beat them inside with a fastball. Typically I like to live on the inside corner with my fastball and show it away just to keep them honest. Then I’ll mix in a change up to lefties and try to expand the zone with my slider.
Paulsen: There are reports that you popped at 102 mph during a game. Is that legit?
Strasburg: Umm, I hear it’s pretty legit. I think in that game I hit it seven times. At least that’s what I heard from a couple different people. I obviously didn’t see it with my own two eyes, but that’s what I heard so I guess it’s legit.
Paulsen: What separates you from the rest of the pack in college baseball?
Strasburg: I really can’t say. I know there are a lot of players out there who work just as hard as me. But I think I’ve been very fortunate at San Diego State to really grow, as a player and as a person. Every task they’ve presented in front of me, I’ve just tried to overcome it. That’s something I learned at an early age from my mom and dad. When you are faced with adversity, the biggest thing you can do is to give it everything you’ve got and just overcome it.
Paulsen: There are stories being written in major publications about you every single day. Do you have any interest in reading them?
Strasburg: I’m definitely not trying to focus on that stuff. I’m trying to focus on the season right now. I think we have a very good team and I think we have a good shot of getting to a regional and potentially winning the conference tournament this year. I mean, all that stuff is great—because hopefully it’s promoting the San Diego State baseball program—but I’m just going to let all that stuff sort itself out when it comes time for that.
Paulsen: What do you view is the next step in further enhancing your development?
Strasburg: I think there’s always room to get better with your pitch execution and just knowing when to throw certain pitches. I think it’s just learning more about the game and learning how to call my own game. It’s really just getting that experience. Obviously pitching in China was a great learning experience. I’m just hoping to get thrown into the fire as many times as possible so I can get that feeling so that when the game’s on the line, I know what I’ve got to do to get it done.
Paulsen: What’s the biggest difference between you today and you as a prep player who wasn’t on many people’s radar three years ago?
Strasburg: I think I’ve matured a lot just in the last three or four years. I was soft mentally and soft physically back in high school. I used to really let little things bother me, but as of right now I feel like I’ve conquered all of those inner demons that I had. I go out there and I do my best and when it doesn’t go my way I accept that. You know, whenever you fail there’s always something you can get better at and that’s what I love about baseball. Nobody’s going to be perfect.
Paulsen: Your high school GPA was over 4.65. Do you still enjoy hitting the books like you used to?
Strasburg: Oh, for sure. I’m majoring in public administration and I’m hoping to have that degree done in three and a half years. I’ve had a great opportunity to go to class in the great facilities we have while playing baseball at the same time.
Paulsen: What are your individual goals for the rest of 2009 season?
Strasburg: Individually, I’d like to go out there and punch the clock every time out and give a quality start no matter what happens. As long as I know that I did a good job and put my team in a position to win a ballgame, then I will consider it successful outing. My main focus right now is just to help propel this team to the next level, which is to get to a regional and then eventually becoming one of the powerhouses in the country.
Paulsen: You’re focus is on the team, but you’ve got to be thinking about the draft as well, right?
Strasburg: I’ve just learned to accept that it’s coming and that a lot of people want to talk about it. I mean, that’s great and everything, but honestly, all that stuff will work itself out. I still have a lot left that I want to do here at San Diego State, and I feel like as long as I take care of my business here then all of that stuff will work itself out in the end.
Paulsen: Have you pictured yourself in a Nationals jersey yet?
Strasburg: No, not really. I’m just hoping to get to the big leagues some day. I can’t say what team I’ll be on but hopefully someday I’ll be there with somebody.