Strasburg’s AFL Debut

By Dave Perkin

Stephen Strasburg made his long-awaited and highly-anticipated professional debut here Friday night in an Arizona Fall League contest.

The righthander was one of the most highly publicized prospects in baseball history, Strasburg enjoyed a sensational junior season at San Diego State in 2009 and was named BA’s College Player of the Year on his way to being the No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Nationals in June.

Taking the mound for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in a game against the Scottsdale Scorpions, Strasburg delivered 52 pitches in 3.1 innings of work. Overall, the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder faced 11 hitters, allowing two hits, one walk and striking out two. He got eight ground outs and no fly outs. Thirty-two of his pitches were strikes, and he notched first-pitch strikes on six of the 11 batters he faced.

BA spoke to a veteran pro and amateur scout and received his assessment on Strasburg’s outing.

According to one scout, Strasburg threw hard but wasn’t missing a lot of bats. “He topped out at 97-98 (mph) in the first and second inning, then was lower in the third at 95,” the scout said. “He was up in the zone a lot and gave up a lot of foul balls. When he’s down in the zone he gets good sinking action. That’s where he got his two strikeouts.”

The strikeouts came against Brandon Crawford of the Giants and Domonic Brown of the Phillies.

The scout continued, “His 82-83 curve wasn’t as sharp as I’ve seen it before. He was casting the curve, and Thomas Neal (Giants) got a hit off of that pitch. I thought his slider, at 87-88, was his better breaking ball tonight.”

Jose Tabata (Pirates) gave Strasburg trouble all night, working a walk early on and then doubling to right-center field in the third inning. Tabata has spent time in Double-A and Triple-A, of course, while this was Strasburg’s pro debut.

From a mechanical standpoint, the scout stated that Strasburg “gets a little forward with his arm and hand in his delivery. Also, his elbow gets closed up on top. I’m a little worried about his ability to drive downward all the time. He throws so hard and gets such ride and carry on his fastball, he can throw it up in the zone and get away with it. There are a few little red flags and he needs to clean up his delivery a bit. But the positives outweigh the negatives.”

On a long-term basis, the scout sees Strasburg as “a sort of righthanded Dave Righetti. No doubt he’ll begin his career as a No. 1 starter, but later on I can see him being a power closer.”

Of course, it was one start, and the first for Strasburg since NCAA regional play at the end of May. Strasburg has more AFL starts to gain experience before expectations ramp up for his first pro season in 2010.