San Diego State's Strasburg

Not many people were surprised when Stephen Strasburg was selected as this year’s number one MLB Draft pick. Strasburg went to the Nationals and so ended the discussion and hearsay of where he might end up. Strasburg, the 22-year-old pitcher from San Diego State University, has already become somewhat of a legend with stories of a 100 mph+  fastball, 90 mph slider, and Major League ready composure. But, like most legends there is much about the Stephen Strasburg story that isn’t covered by most media outlets. It is important for fans, scouts and reporters alike to go beyond the legend and learn more about Strasburg. Luckily enough, SportsForce has been able to document some of his season and has a straight forward and simple scouting report to share on the soon to be first round selection.

Being headquartered in San Diego, we have seen Strasburg a number of times and agree he is a truly dominating pitcher. Strasburg’s stuff is very impressive and would fool even some of the Major League’s most seasoned hitters, but contrary to what others have reported, Strasburg is not a four-pitch pitcher. Nor does he feature a 90-mile per hour slider. Rather, Strasburg is a developing pitcher who has two dominant pitches with room for improvement. This is partially what excites Major League teams since today’s game is being built more and more around developing pitching at the minor league level. Strasburg has the potential to be a #1 starter that can carry a team similar to a Roy Halladay, Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy or Johan Santana. However, he must first overcome a few obstacles.

Stephen Strasburg Scouting Video vs. UC Davis April 4th, 2009 from Sports Force on Vimeo.

Strasburg relies primarily on two pitches: his explosive 95+ mile per hour fastball, which has been clocked as high as 103, and his sharp downward biting curveball. The fastball overpowers hitters and can be located to both sides of the plate. At this point, Strasburg is not a pitcher who locates his fastball consistently every time, but what he lacks in precision he makes up for in conviction and confidence. His curve ranges from the low to mid 80’s (mph) and can be thrown for strikes in almost any count ,which is rare for a young pitcher. When his curve is used in conjunction with the fastball, he often makes hitters uncomfortable and leaves them guessing what’s next.

The challenge Strasburg will face in professional baseball is hitters who are accustomed to seeing pitchers with overpowering stuff more often and are adept to figuring out starters that primarily feature only two pitches. It will take more than a hard fastball and plus curve to have long term success as a Major League starting pitcher. Whether it’s a two-seam fastball, change-up or split finger fastball, he will likely have to develop another above average pitch. A pitcher with only two options isn’t likely to be dominant as a starter at the Major League level.

Another impressive aspect about Strasburg is his size, strength and body control. Strasburg has a prototype pitcher’s body. He is tall, lean, and has a strong frame with powerful legs. He builds a lot of momentum with his windup and has great arm speed . His motion is compact and fluid and his repeatable mechanics allow him to be quick and consistent to the plate when holding runners (In the stretch his slide step delivery is usually 1.20 – 1.25 seconds). Yet, there are some downsides to the nature of his delivery.

While Strasburg’s motion creates incredible power, it offers little deception. Thus, Strasburg will be dependent on the quality of his pitches and location to succeed on the at the major league level.. As such, like Justin Verlander of the Detriot Tigers, Strasburg’s health could be and issue with regards to his ability to be successful. If he has a lingering injury or loses any part of his fastball, like Verlander did in 2008, without the deception of other pitchers, Strasburg’s pitches will be very hittable. Strasburg will need to maintain both his health and his quality pitches if he wants to be successful at the next level.

Like many young professional athletes, Strasburg is strong in some areas and vulnerable in others. If nothing else, it will be a joy to watch a stand-out pitcher from San Diego State begin his MLB career, where his promise is endless.

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