A No-Brainer At No. 1

Nationals add Stanford closer Storen after Strasburg




QUICK TAKE
The Nationals did what they had to do, making Stephen Strasburg the No. 1 pick and then taking (and quickly signing) a solid pick at No. 10 in Drew Storen. He could fit in the Washington bullpen quickly. The Nats got value in the likes of athletic Cal IF Jeff Kobernus (second round) and Kansas State RHP A.J. Morris (fourth), but this draft comes down to signing Strasburg. Washington took eight high school players overall, including just two in the first 10 rounds.
—JOHN MANUEL
WASHINGTON—The Nationals had been on the clock since finishing with the worst record in the major leagues in 2008. Their decision on a No. 1 overall draft pick, though, was the easy part as they chose San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg. Now they and Scott Boras are on another clock.

The club and the advisers have until Aug. 15 to work out a deal that likely would at least break righthander Mark Prior's record $10.5 million in guaranteed money in 2001. Strasburg, the lone amateur on the U.S. Olympic team last summer, already was one of the most ballyhooed prospects in the history of the draft before going 13-1, 1.32 with 195 strikeouts and 19 walks in 109 innings in his junior season.

To trumpet the selection of Strasburg, the team piped in the MLB Network feed at Nationals Park. With a thunderstorm passing through that delayed the start of a game against the Reds, only a smattering of applause could be heard with the choice that could change the direction of the franchise.

"We weren't going to pass on this player in the draft," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said at a news conference held in front of fans in the team's Presidents Club. "We're optimistic about signing all our draft choices. We don't negotiate through the media, so I'm not going to begin now."

A year ago, when Jim Bowden was still general manager, the Nationals failed to sign ninth overall pick Aaron Crow, and as compensation they received the 10th pick this year and used it on a righthanded closer in Stanford draft-eligible sophomore Drew Storen. No compensation would be given to the Nationals if Storen does not sign.

"Both (Strasburg and Storen) possess outstanding makeup, outstanding skills and outstanding character, which is the hallmark of the players that we've been putting into the system here in Washington," Rizzo said.

Crow, a righthander who has been pitching for the independent Fort Worth Cats, was chosen 12th by the Royals. He had not granted the Nationals permission to consider re-drating him, Rizzo said.

Storen was not projected as a first-round pick until late in the spring, but the Nationals see him as a potential closer with a plus fastball, plus slider and a developing changeup. This year at Stanford, Storen had seven saves as he went 7-1, 3.80 with 66 strikeouts and eight walks in 43 innings.

"He's a tough-minded, hard-nosed kid who wants the ball in the ninth inning," Rizzo said.

While Storen was a late riser, Strasburg remained as the top prospect in the nation all season.

"Stephen was at the top of all our prep lists going into the season, and he stayed at the top of everybody's list," Rizzo said. "We saw each start that he had this year, and I don't think we ever wavered from him being at the top of the draft board."

San Diego State coach and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn said he was most impressed by how Strasburg accepted a challenge each year. He took to the Aztecs' closer role as a freshman, joined the rotation last year and led the team to regionals this season.

"I'm a believer," Gwynn said on draft night. "Nationals fans are going to expect a lot. I don't know if that's fair or not, but hopefully he'll embrace it.

"It was a whole lot easier 20 years ago than it is now, I can tell you that, with all (the attention)."

Despite Strasburg's billing, Rizzo said not to expect the 21-year-old to go straight to Washington, even with his 101 mph fastball and devastating curveball.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's no pitcher or player that's major league ready coming out of the draft because they've never experienced the wear and tear of a professional season," Rizzo said. "It's just such a drastic change from what they're used to in college and certainly high school, and Stephen and Drew are no exceptions to the rule."

CAPITAL GAINS

• Storen lived with fellow Cardinal sophomore pitchers Michael Marshall and Alex Pracher this spring, and also with Nationals minor leaguer Jack McGeary until McGeary went to spring training after deciding to become a full-time minor leaguer this season. McGeary, a sixth-round pick in 2007 who signed for $1.8 million, was not able to work out with the Stanford team while he took classes at the university. "At Stanford, Jack was my roommate, and we planned to be next year," Storen said. "We've been talking (about pitching in the same organization), and I'm excited."

• With the first pick in the second round (50th overall), the Nationals chose a third collegian from the state of California—second baseman Jeff Kobernus, who hit .341/.385/.544 in 217 at-bats as a junior at Cal this year.