After Strasburg, Draft pieces fall into place
Pitching dominates first round as 16 hurlers selected
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- There were no surprises in the opening moments of Major League Baseball's 2009 First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday evening, as Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig stepped to the podium at MLB Network's Studio 42 and announced that the Nationals had selected San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
After that, though, all the mysteries and questions and puzzle pieces finally started to fall into place in what has been, perhaps, the least predictable first round of a Draft in recent history.
Pitching was definitely the name of the game in the first half of the first round, with 11 hurlers taken, including 14 of the first 20 picks and one string of eight in a row early. It even looked as though the record of 20 pitchers taken in the first round -- set in 1999 and equaled in 2001 -- might be broken. Ultimately, the round was a perfect 16-16 split, both between pitchers and hitters and high school and college players. But the real "name" of the game was, of course, Strasburg.
Could Strasburg, arguably the best pitching prospect baseball has seen, be one of the rare players who goes straight to the big leagues once he signs? The Draft's top pick is taking it one step at a time.
"You know what, it's tough to say right now," he said. "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."
With a fastball clocked consistently in triple digits, offset by a hard curveball, Strasburg is just the 14th pitcher in the 34-year history of the Draft to be taken with the first overall pick.
After pitching in the 2008 Olympics for Team USA -- the only amateur selected to the squad -- his '09 campaign for the Aztecs cemented his status as he went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA in 109 innings, during which he scattered 65 hits, walking 19 and striking out a Division I-leading 195 batters, 17 of those in a May 8 no-hitter vs. Air Force.
"We are thrilled to select someone with the special talents that Stephen possesses," said Mike Rizzo, the Nationals' assistant general manager. "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."
With the second pick, the Mariners took North Carolina first baseman/outfielder Dustin Ackley, widely considered the top college hitter available in the Draft. The ACC Player of the Year, whose team is still active in the upcoming College World Series, has hit .417 with 22 homers and 70 RBIs so far this season and has maintained a .400-plus average throughout his three-year college career. A first baseman for UNC, Ackley has played there after having Tommy John ligament replacement surgery during the summer of 2008, but his skill set matches better to the outfield, where he is expected to move professionally.
With the third pick, the Padres took five-tool outfielder Donavan Tate out of Cartersville (Ga.) High School. The son of former NFL running back Lars Tate has few peers when it comes to sheer talent, tools and athleticism, but there were questions about his signability due to a commitment to North Carolina, where he was recruited to play both football and baseball.
Top 10 overall picks
|1. WAS||RHP||Stephen Strasburg||San Diego State Univ.|
|2. SEA||1B/OF||Dustin Ackley||UNC-Chapel Hill|
|3. SD||OF||Donavan Tate||Cartersville H.S. (Ga.)|
|4. PIT||C||Jorge Sanchez||Boston College|
|5. BAL||RHP||Matthew Hobgood||Norco H.S. (Calif.)|
|6. SF||RHP||Zachary Wheeler||East Paulding HS (Ga.)|
|7. ATL||LHP||Michael Minor||Vanderbilt Univ.|
|8. CIN||RHP||Michael Leake||Arizona St. Univ.|
|9. DET||RHP||Jacob Turner||Westminster Christian Acad. (Mo.)|
|10. WAS||RHP||Drew Storen||Stanford Univ.|
|Complete Draft results >|
The Pirates' pick with the fourth selection, Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez, had been one of the biggest risers in the Draft in recent days. He stood out in a strong crop of catchers with his all-around defensive game as well as his bat, hitting .355 with 14 homers and 53 RBIs.
Rounding out the Top 5, the Orioles selected right-handed pitcher Matt Hobgood out of Norco (Calif.) High School. The 6-foot-4 245-pounder, who has signed a letter of commitment with Cal State Fullerton, was 11-1 with a 0.92 ERA, striking out 101 in just 68 1/3 innings while walking 26.
With the sixth pick, San Francisco grabbed right-hander Zach Wheeler, a high-school flame-thrower out of East Paulding (Ga.) High School, giving the Peachtree State two high school picks in the top six. The 19-year-old Wheeler was 9-0 with a 0.54 ERA, striking out 149 in 76 innings.
The Braves took polished college southpaw Mike Minor at No. 7, making the Vanderbilt starter the first left-hander selected. He's a prototypical finesse lefty with a fastball around 90 and good offspeed offerings.
Making their pitch in first round
|Stephen Strasburg was the 14th pitcher taken as the first overall selection since the institution of the First-Year Player Draft in 1965.|
|1973||Rangers||David Clyde||LHP||Westchester H.S. (TX)|
|1976||Astros||Floyd Bannister||LHP||Arizona State Univ.|
|1981||Mariners||Mike Moore||RHP||Oral Roberts Univ.|
|1983||Twins||Tim Belcher||RHP||Mt. Vernon Nazarene Coll.|
|1988||Padres||Andy Benes||RHP||Univ. of Evansville|
|1989||Orioles||Ben McDonald||RHP||Louisiana State Univ.|
|1991||Yankees||Brien Taylor||LHP||East Carteret H.S. (NC)|
|1994||Mets||Paul Wilson||RHP||Florida State Univ.|
|1996||Pirates||Kris Benson||RHP||Clemson Univ.|
|1997||Tigers||Matt Anderson||RHP||Rice Univ.|
|2002||Pirates||Bryan Bullington||RHP||Ball State Univ.|
|2006||Royals||Luke Hochevar||RHP||Univ. of Tennessee|
|2007||Devil Rays||David Price||LHP||Vanderbilt Univ.|
|2009||Nationals||Stephen Strasburg||RHP||San Diego State Univ.|
At No. 8, Cincinnati stuck with the college pitcher trend and went with right-hander Mike Leake out of Arizona State. He throws four pitches for strikes and could move quickly once his college season is over, as ASU is in the College World Series.
With the ninth pick, the Tigers selected right-hander Jacob Turner, a high school prospect out of Westminster (Mo.) High School with a mid-90s fastball, big breaking curveball and an easy delivery.
Rounding out the Top 10, the Nationals made a little Draft history as they became the first team to have two picks in the first 10 (a selection received in compensation for not signing No. 9 pick Aaron Crow last year). They went with polished college closer Drew Storen of Stanford University, who had seven saves and fanned 66 in 42 2/3 innings this spring.
Picking at No. 11, the Rockies may have gotten a steal of a deal with California high school sensation Tyler Matzek, who one scout called the "mack daddy" of the loaded prep southpaw crop. Matzek, whose Capistrano Valley H.S. team won its CIF title this weekend behind his shutout pitching and game-winning homer, went 13-1 with a 0.96 ERA this season, including 18 1/3 shutout innings in the postseason. He fanned 106 in 86 2/3 innings and has great mechanics, an easy delivery and plus stuff across the board, highlighted by a fastball that was clocked at 99 the weekend before the Draft.
The Royals stayed close to home, taking the right-hander Crow, who had his glory days pitching at Missouri. Taken with the ninth overall pick in 2008 by Washington, but having opted not to sign, he showcased his stuff this spring with the independent league Fort Worth Cats and shown that not only was his fastball still fast and his slider still sharp but he had also improved his changeup. He was 13-0 with a 2.35 ERA as Big 12 Pitcher of the Year for Mizzou in '08.
Oakland snapped a string of eight consecutive pitchers taken as they selected shortstop Grant Green out of Southern Cal with the 13th pick. Considered the best defensive shortstop in the draft, Green is a polished defender who batted .374 for the Trojans after a slow start.
At No. 14, Texas stayed local and snatched up high school southpaw Matthew Purke from Klein (Texas) High School. With great upside, Purke was ranked on a par with Matzek by many scouts.
Cleveland, picking at No. 15, took North Carolina right-hander Alex White, who had an up-and-down season but is coming off a career-best 12 strikeouts against East Carolina to help propel his Tar Heels to the College World Series.
Arizona, which had back-to-back picks at 16 and 17, took a pair of position players in switch-hitting third baseman Bobby Borchering out of Bishop Verot High School in Florida, and Notre Dame outfielder A.J. Pollock, who led the Big East in hits, doubles and slugging percentage while batting .377.
The third high school left-hander taken, Chad James from Oklahoma, went to the Marlins at No. 18. An intensive offseason workout regimen saw his fastball rise from the 80s to the mid-90s as he posted a 1.28 ERA in 63 innings for Yukon High.
With the 19th pick, St. Louis took Texas high school right-hander Shelby Miller, who has an easy delivery and one of the best fastballs of any of the prep pitchers, a lively offering in the mid 90s, which is offset by a potential plus.
Rounding out the top 20 was Kennesaw State right-hander Chad Jenkins, a 6-foot-4 225-pounder with a sinking fastball that can hit the mid-90s.
The 21st pick signaled a sudden and dedicated return to the search for position players as 10 of the final 12 selections in the first round were hitters, including the last six.
Among the bats taken in that span: California high school shortstop Jiovanni Mier at No. 21 to the Astros; athletic two-way baseball/football star Jared Mitchell from LSU at No. 23 to the White Sox; Texas high school outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Angels at No. 24; Florida high school shortstop Nick Franklin at No. 27 to Seattle; Puerto Rican high school outfielder Reymond Fuentes, a cousin of Mets star Carlos Beltran, to the Red Sox at No. 28; Texas high school outfielder Slade Heathcott at No. 29 to the New York Yankees; speedy Florida second baseman LeVon Washington to the Rays at No. 30; Cal-Berkeley center fielder Brett Jackson to the Cubs at No. 31; and outfielder Tim Wheeler from Sacramento State at No. 32 to the Rockies.
And no pick got a bigger cheer from the crowd than the Angels' selection of New Jersey high school outfielder Mike Trout at No. 25. Trout, who drew raves from scouts this season for his five-tool potential, was in attendance for the event Tuesday night, joined by a host of friends and family.
Among the two pitchers taken in the final 12 picks, Missouri right-hander Kyle Gibson slipped to Minnesota at No. 22. After sustaining a stress fracture in his right forearm that has him sidelined for several weeks. He had been considered a likely Top 10 pick until recently and, with no structural damage, the 6-foot-6 Gibson should be back in good shape by late July.
Indiana ace right-hander Eric Arnett was the other pitcher taken, at No. 26, by the Brewers.
You can continue to follow every pick of the three-day Draft at MLB.com, which will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on MLB.com. First-day coverage will continue through the first 111 picks. The action will start up again today at noon ET for Rounds 4-30 and on Thursday at 11:30 for the final rounds.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.