Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The 2009 Entry Draft Party

Maybe the most entertaining sight tonight during The 2009 First-Year Player Draft Party at Nationals Park was the media--clamoring for any quotes from Our Washington Nationals First Round--First Pick--Stephen Strasburg. Many rushing over to a television monitor in The Presidents Club to record whatever comments The San Diego State University Product stated via an MLB Network Interview.

That was funny, but mostly June 9th, 2009 was serious business. DC's Team was looking to make its mark having the 1st & 10th Picks in today's 1st Round of this year's Entry Draft. Talent is what Our Washington Nationals need most, and no one could deny some solid choices were selected during this most important day in Washington's young history.

Sequestered inside The Media Room at Nationals Park, the entire contingent of Our Washington Nationals Front Office set up shop, their so-called "War Room" as has become fashion during amateur drafts. From Principal Owner Mark Lerner, to Team President Stan Kasten, Interim GM Mike Rizzo, Scouting Director Dana Brown and probably most every single scout on Washington's payroll--they were all there--watching their draft board as well as the selections of all the other 29 teams in the game.

The consensus number one pick by Washington--Stephen Strasburg--was a no brainer. It didn't matter that in the history of The Entry Draft, few Overall Number 1 Picks--who are pitchers--have been overly successful. It did not matter that pitchers can always break down. And It didn't matter that Strasburg is represented by Scott Boras--arguably the toughest agent out there. (Team President Stan Kasten actually telling Sohna and I later in the evening that the perception of his upcoming negotiations with Boras to sign Strasburg are way overblown--and will be nowhere near as acrimonious as some think).

None of that kept Our Washington Nationals from selecting Stephen Strasburg.

“I see him as an outstanding pitching prospect," believes Assistant GM and VP of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo."He’s got a great package. He’s got two plus pitches. He’s got size, leverage, a downhill plane and the ability to throw both pitches for strikes. He competes well on the mound and he’s a tremendous pitching package—a great talent with success. So that is the reason we took him one/one and the reason he was considered the top guy in the draft.”

But as Mr. Rizzo stated before this day began, Washington would pick the best talent available when their time to choose came. Signability was not an issue--neither was position. And when that 10th pick of the 1st round came their way (as compensation for Aaron Crow not signing in 2008) Washington chose it's NUMBER TWO prospect on their draft board. Stanford University Right-Handed Pitcher Drew Storen fell into their lap, one of college baseball's premier closers.

"I like Storen better than (Chad) Cordero," stated Director of Scouting Dana Brown. "I know we were very fortunate to get Cordero. He pitched in an All-Star Game, but Storen has more power to his stuff and he has a better breaking ball. A more powerful fastball."

With Washington's 2nd Round Pick (50th Overall)--Our Washington Nationals chose University of California/Berkeley 2nd Baseman Jeffrey Kobernus and with their 3rd Round Pick (81st Overall) Washington chose University of Georgia Pitcher Trevor Holder. More details to come on these two prospects shortly because today there were three different Media Availabilities tonight at Nationals Park. After the 1st and 10th Selections were made in the 1st Round, Mike Rizzo stepped to the microphone to discuss the Strasburg and Storen picks. That complete transcript will come in THIS post.

Later, Drew Storen was on the phone in a conference call with local media and California media--from his family home in Indiana. That transcript will follow next. Finally, Scouting Director Dana Brown, Asst GM/VP Player Development Bob Boone, National Cross Checker Deric Ladnier and Scout Chris Kline gave an overview of the first four picks to conclude the first day of the selections. That transcript will follow later this morning.

But first--Mike Rizzo on Our Washington Nationals choosing Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen with the 1st and 10th Picks of the 1st Round tonight in the 2009 Entry Draft.

With that here we go:

“A great day in Nationals Franchise History. The first two first round picks are in the books. At one-one, we took Stephen Strasburg a big fire-balling right-handed pitcher. We are expecting great things from him as we are with the number 10 pick in the country—Drew Storen—a right-handed pitcher from Stanford University. Both pitchers possess outstanding makeup, outstanding skills and outstanding character-which is the hallmark of the players we are putting into the system here in Washington.”

“We couldn’t have been any more pleased to have both these pitchers available when we drafted. And like I said earlier, it’s a great day for The Nationals.”

Question: Any chance you would have passed on Strasburg?

“We were not going to pass on the best player in the draft. We felt he was the best player and as we have stated to you many times, we are going to take the best player available—at all times.”

Question: Talk about signing Strasburg with his agent Scott Boras?

“We are optimistic about signing all our draft choices. We don’t negotiate through the media and I am not going to begin now. We are going to begin the process, which I have begun already to Scott Boras with a congratulatory phone call and a very great and detailed conversation with Stephen Strasburg. He was elated to be drafted by The Washington Nationals, fired up to be The Number One Pick. And was having a great time in California with the rest of his teammates at San Diego State.”

Question: Why is he special?

“I see him as an outstanding pitching prospect. He’s got a great package. He’s got two plus pitches. He’s got size, leverage, a downhill plane and the ability to throw both pitches for strikes. He competes well on the mound and he’s a tremendous pitching package—a great talent with success. So that is the reason we took him one/one and the reason he was considered the top guy in the draft.”

Question: Storen, picked solely as a reliever?

“He’s a 6’2” right-handed pitcher that has two plus pitches and a developing changeup. He’s got a repertoire where we are going to keep him in the bullpen role---that is where he is most comfortable. And his makeup and character has led us to that decision. He is a tough minded, hard-nosed right-handed pitcher. He wants the challenge of coming out of the bullpen in the 9th inning. We believe he has the ability and the repertoire of pitches to compete in the 9th inning and that is the reason we took him. He’s a much quicker prospect to The Major Leagues as a closing prospect than he is to build up his innings and try to make him a starter—which he hasn’t done in a couple of years since he’s been at Stanford.”

Question: “Mike you’ve seen a lot of prospects, what’s your philosophy of bringing them to the majors?

“Well, development is probably the second most important part of acquiring Major League Talent. The scouts can draft the right player, but development has to prepare them to play in the Major Leagues. There is no short-cut process in this. It’s a process that you can’t rush. Some players’ advance quicker than others, but there is always a learning curve. The process of just being a professional player is probably the most daunting of tasks for a young amateur player.”

Question: Are you taking a long hard look at the number of innings pitched (by Strasburg in 2009)?

“Innings pitched, the stress, the total number of innings pitched and the amount of pitches he’s thrown in any given game. And as we all know, strikeout pitchers seem to mount many more pitches per game than your sinker/slider guys. Stephen is no exception to that rule. He throws a lot of pitches because he strikes out a lot of batters.”

Question: Was Stephen on top of your list?

“Stephen was on the top of all our pref lists going into the season. And he stayed atop of everybody’s list. We monitored him closely as you all well know. We saw every start that he had this year. And I don’t think we ever wavered from him from being at the top of the draft.”

Question: Is he ready for The Majors?

“As far as I am concerned, there is NO PITCHER OR PLAYER that is Major League ready coming out of the draft. They have never experienced the wear and tear of a professional season—the everydayness of the baseball activity. As far as the pitcher goes, pitching every five days with a bullpen in-between there. It just such a drastic change from what they are use to in college—and certainly in high school. I don’t believe any pitcher or any position player comes out of the draft and goes directly to The Major Leagues. And Stephen and Drew are no exception to that rule.”

Question: Is Strasburg as good as advertised?

“He’s certainly in the team photo of the best guys I have ever seen. I’ve seen a lot of them. Ben McDonald was there. Frank Thomas as an amateur player. I’ve seen Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Chris Carpenter—there is a long line of terrific prospects coming into the draft. He is certainly in that group.”

Question: Where was Storen on your drafting board?

“He was the next guy on our board. He was ranked very highly on the board. We got on him early in the season at Stanford. Our area scout, Ryan Fox, did a tremendous job getting all the cross checkers in on him. He was crosschecked by everyone in our department including myself—when I saw him pitch here at Nationals Park (in a pre-draft tryout last week). He was the guy we had a good background on. We’ve seen him for years since his high school days. We had him in here and had a good sit down talk with him—face to face—and really loved his stuff. We really got hooked on the person and the character and the makeup. He’s a terrific kid from a terrifically rich pitching program and we couldn’t be happier with the selection.”

Question: Can you walk us through these sit downs with the prospect?

“It’s to get a feel of his personality. Not only the way he pitches during the games but also how he goes about his work between starts—in between relief appearances—the way he goes after his training and running pole to pole. The way he warms up and the way he lights up when he crosses the line and gets to the mound. It’s the litmus test of how we figure out he’s a back end of the bullpen guy.”

Question: Did you get permission to re-select Aaron Crow?

“No, we did not get permission to re-select Aaron Crow."

Question: Assuming Strasburg signs with the team next week, two weeks or two months from now—will you follow through on your comment a few weeks back—to shut him down for the season?

“It’s all about the timing of the signing with Strasburg. It depends on when we sign him. We can’t let him sit too long and then have to ramp him back up. I don’t think he’s thrown an excess of pitches or innings that would force us to shut him down immediately. But we would certainly have to be careful with him—which we are careful with all our pitchers—in The Major Leagues and ultimately throughout our Minor League System. But I don’t believe if he’s signed in a relatively short period of time we would have to shut him down.”

Question: Did you see Strasburg during all of his starts this past season?

“Someone on our staff saw him pitch every time he toed the rubber.”

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