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Nationals gamble by picking Strasburg

June 15, 2009

by Matt Kane

The Major League Baseball June amateur draft doesn’t exactly get the same attention that the NBA and NFL drafts do, so, in case you haven’t see or heard, yet, the Washington Nationals selected San Diego State right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg last Tuesday with the number-one pick overall.

Now, the talk has turned to whether or not the Nationals have the means and the willingness to sign Strasburg, who is a Scott Boras client. It’s reported that Strasburg will be asking for a $50 million-plus contract, which would be a record high for a baseball draft pick.

That’s a lot of money for any team, but especially the Nationals, who were unable to sign their first-round selection from a year ago — pitcher Aaron Crow — who was asking for a little more than $4 million.

If Washington doesn’t sign Strasburg by the Aug. 17 deadline, it will lose the pitcher’s draft rights, and be compensated with the second pick in the 2010 draft.

Honestly, if I were giving the Nationals advice, I might tell them to not sign Strasburg.

History has shown that pitchers who have been drafted first overall in the MLB draft don’t turn into much in the big leagues. Or, at least, they don’t seem to earn the money they are given.

A sidebar on MLB.com states that Strasburg was the 14th pitcher taken number one overall in the 45-year history of the First-Year Player Draft.

Here is the list of all those pitchers. You decide if they were worth it.

Year Player Team
1973 David Clyde Rangers
1976 Floyd Bannister Astros
1981 Mike Moore Mariners
1983 Tim Belcher Twins
1988 Andy Benes Padres
1989 Ben McDonald Orioles
1991 Brien Taylor Yankees
1994 Paul Wilson Mets
1996 Kris Benson Pirates
1997 Matt Anderson Tigers
2002 Bryan Bullington Pirates
2006 Luke Hochevar Royals
2007 David Price Devil Rays
2009 Stephen Strasburg Nationals

There are a few names you might recognize, like Floyd Bannister, Andy Benes, and, after the last postseason, David Price, but none of them turned into superstar major leaguers, in my opinion. Price is still too young to tell.

Only Tim Belcher, Andy Benes and Ben McDonald finished with the combination of having pitched at least 10 seasons and finished with winning records.

Belcher never signed with the Twins in 1983, but did sign with the Yankees after the 1984 draft. His career mark was 146-140 in 14 season with eight different teams.

Benes also pitched 14 seasons, and finished with a 159-139 record, and McDonald pitched 10 seasons, and finished with a 78-70 record.

Bannister’s career lasted 15 seasons in the major leagues, and he accumulating a record of 134-143.

Kris Benson is known mostly because of his wife’s threats if he was an unfaithful husband.

Benson, Bullington and Hochevar are still active, but none of the three have shown they will be aces in the league.

I understand the Nationals couldn’t pass up the sure thing scouts probably labeled Strasburg as, and maybe he will become the next Nolan Ryan. But baseball fans and the Nationals should realize the odds are against that.

Then again, the odds any player drafted becomes a superstar player in the major leagues are very small. So, in that sense, the Major League Baseball First Year Draft is a big gamble.

For the Nationals, that gamble could be worth $50 million. And, hopefully, for those Nationals, Strasburg doesn’t turn into Brien Taylor.