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When Losing Pays Off - Steven Strasburg

For our NBA fans out there, do you remember the 1996-97 season?  The Spurs suffered season-ending injuries to David Robinson and Sean Elliot and tumbled all the way to a 20-62 record. 

I'm sure it was a miserable time for their fans - similar to what many A's fans are feeling right now.  But the Spurs ended up receiving the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and fortunately, that was a great year year to have the No. 1 overall, because there was a consensus No. 1 overall pick that year, a franchise-changer:  Tim Duncan, perhaps the last great four-years-of-college player.  Duncan has since led the Spurs to four titles and been named to 11 all-NBA teams.

It's an admittedly far from perfect analogy, for an elite basketball player can have a greater impact on his game than a baseball player can to be sure.  But what I'm getting at here is that the A's of '08 are spiraling toward a top-5 pick in next year's draft themselves, and there just so happens to be a guy who might be the consensus No. 1 overall pick in next June's draft as well.

As the Spurs of 1997 can attest (or the Rays with David Price in '07), that's a good time to have the No. 1 overall pick - not in a Kwame Brown year, but in a Tim Duncan year.  When the stats and the scouts and all 30 franchises agree that this guy's as close to a sure thing as it gets. 

The 2009 MLB Draft might end up being a year with one of those consensus No. 1 players - Steven Strasburg of San Diego State.   

And since it appears A's fans will inevitably be watching sub-.500 baseball for the remainder of the year, I thought it would be fun to look at something a little more tangible than our usual "we'll get a top-10 pick next year."  That thought is more inspiring than picking at No. 12 and taking Jemile Weeks, but it'd be more interesting if we could actually put an exciting name, face, and stats to it.

So, who exactly is this elite amateur talent that might be procured with a top-3 A's draft pick next year?  Strasburg is a 6'5", 215-pound righty who dominated the NCAA this year as a sophomore for the Aztecs.  His fastball has reportedly reached 99 and his slider is equally dominant.  One great indicator of his talent is the fact that he's the only amateur on the USA Baseball Olympic roster. 

Here's a video link to Strasburg's 23 strikeout game earlier this season, and here's a short article that Dave Cameron of fangraphs wrote about him earlier this year.

Not only does Strasburg have the tools, but he measures up better than anyone in the country statistically, too. As I'm writing this, unfortunately the SDSU athletics website is down, so I can't access the stats I'd like to and I'm going from memory.  (Perhaps someone can help me out in the comments with the official numbers from '08 and '07).  But we're talking about an unheard-of-for-Divison I-baseball ERA of 1.74 in a full season as a starter, better than 10 K's per nine innings, and only 16 walks (IIRC) in an entire season!  That's Mark Prior at USC-type dominance...and Strasburg did this in only his sophomore year.

I realize many ANers might be thinking, "We already have enough pitching! We need a an elite hitter!"  But if Strasburg stays healthy and dominant in '09 and emerges as the next David Price - a consensus No. 1 overall - I think any team would be thrilled to have him.  When a consensus No. 1 comes around, it's probably best to take him and let the positions sort themselves out later, even if you're stocked at that position. Just ask the Spurs.

Anyways, something to discuss during the down times.  Looking at an actual, tangible, terrific player who could one day be in an A's uniform is a hell of lot more exciting for me than some vague, fuzzy concept of a top-10 pick next year.