Phenom Strasburg leads strong Draft group
Right-hander leads parade of pitchers in Round 1
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Entering the 2009 First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday, there were more questions than answers, more mysteries than solutions, and exactly one sure thing: Stephen Strasburg was going to be drafted No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals.
As expected, Strasburg, the much hyped, much heralded right-hander from San Diego State University was, in fact, the first name called, becoming the 14th pitcher to be taken first overall in the 45-year history of the Draft. With a year-long drumbeat surrounding his every start, Strasburg delivered a brilliant junior season, long ago cementing his Draft status.
Dropping jaws with his triple-digit fastball and hard curve, making batters look silly with his 1.32 ERA and Division-I leading 195 strikeouts in 109 innings, the only remaining questions regarding Strasburg are when and if he'll sign with the Nationals.
"I'm just really enjoying this time right now with my friends and family and we'll have to go from here and see what happens," Strasburg said.
Nationals acting GM Mike Rizzo was understandably delighted to have the rare opportunity to draft a player like Strasburg.
"We are thrilled to select someone with the special talents that Stephen possesses," said Rizzo. "Those talents have long been on our radar and Stephen's domination at San Diego State and vast experiences gained with Team USA last summer have done nothing to change our thoughts about his abilities."
After Strasburg, the next three picks were all position players. Seattle selected first baseman/outfielder Dustin Ackley out of North Carolina, the ACC Player of the Year. The San Diego Padres followed with Georgia high school outfielder Donavan Tate, the son of former NFL running back Lars Tate. With the No. 4 pick, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez, an all-around talent. Rounding out the Top 5, the Baltimore Orioles took big California high school righty Matt Hobgood.
The Top 10 was rounded out with Georgia high school right-hander Zach Wheeler to San Francisco at No. 6; polished Vanderbilt southpaw Mike Minor to Atlanta at No. 7; Arizona State ace right-hander Mike Leake to Cincinnati at No. 8; high school hurler Jacob Turner from Missouri to Detroit at No. 9; and Stanford closer Drew Storen to the Nationals at No. 10.
Tuesday night's Draft took place, for the first time, in prime time at MLB Network's Studio 42. It encompassed three rounds and 111 picks overall, including, also for the first time, a 32-pick first round as new compensation rules came into effect this year.
It appeared in the early going that not only was the first-round trend skewing heavily toward pitching, but that it could surpass the record of 20 pitchers taken in the first round, set in 1999 and equaled in 2001.
Out of the first 20 picks, 14 were pitchers, including a string early on of eight pitchers in a row. After the top 20, though, the trend shifted to hitters, with 10 of the last 12 coming from position players, including the last six of the round.
When all was said and done, the first round could not have sorted out more evenly. There were 16 pitchers taken and 16 position players, and there were 16 collegiate products to go with 16 high school prospects.
Continuing the cyclical nature of the early going, the trend went back to pitching in the first compensation round (Compensation A), with arms coming off the board with 12 of the 17 picks, including the last eight picks. Seven of those picks were left-handers.
The first 49 picks, encompassing the first and Compensation A round, had four sets of college teammates hear their names called.
College World Series-bound North Carolina had No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley (Seattle Mariners) and right-hander Alex White (No. 15 to Cleveland) go early. That's the Tar Heels' second pair of first-rounders in the last four Drafts, following in the footsteps of 2006 rotation-mates Andrew Miller (now up with the Marlins) and Daniel Bard (in the Boston bullpen). Ackley and White were joined the first night when Tar Heels third baseman Kyle Seager was taken by Seattle with the second pick in the third round.
"It's just a great feeling to play with guys like Ackley," said White. "It's just an exciting day and we're enjoying it a whole bunch."
"I was very surprised to go No. 2 overall and just feel very fortunate they picked me," Ackley added. "I'm looking forward to playing in the College World Series and to go from there."
In addition, Boston College saw Sanchez followed by southpaw closer/first baseman Mike Belfiore, who went to Arizona with the 45th pick; Indiana's Arnett was joined by left-hander Matt Bashore, who went to the Twins with No. 46 overall; and Jenkins was joined by his Kennesaw State teammate, right-hander Kyle Heckathorn, picked by Milwaukee at No. 47.
While it was a long, though festive, evening for all involved, some teams were busier than others. The Arizona Diamondbacks had eight picks in the first three rounds, including five in the first 45 picks, while the Angels were right behind with seven (five in the first and Compensation A rounds).
Six other teams, however, had just two picks on the night: Atlanta, Kansas City, Oakland, Philadelphia and both New York clubs. The Mets didn't pick until No. 72, while the Phillies' first pick didn't come until No. 75.
You can continue to follow every pick of the three-day Draft at MLB.com, which will offer exclusive live coverage of the entire First-Year Player Draft. The action will start up again today at noon ET for Rounds 4-30 and on Thursday at 11:30 for the final rounds.
MLB.com's coverage will include a live pick-by-pick audio stream, expert commentary and the exclusive Draft Tracker, a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player, featuring statistics, scouting reports and video highlights.
Fans will not only be able to follow along every minute of the way online, but they'll be able to interact directly with Draft-eligible players and MLB.com Draft experts, among others.
The Draft Tracker will also feature the addition of Twitter, and the participation of "tweeters" such as MLB.com Draft expert @JonathanMayoB3, who will also be serving as on-air talent for all three days of the Draft. In addition, MLB.com has created a Twitter account devoted to the Draft, where you can stay updated on every piece of info as it becomes available (@MLBDraft).
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.