Over the years, there have been many so-called pitching phenoms whose careers fizzled either prior to or shortly after making it to the Big Leagues. Some of them were well on their way to stardom until injuries took their toll while others simply didn't have the mental toughness or maturity to handle the pressure. Whatever the reason may have been, so many of these "sure things" never pan out. In fact, many of them never become solid MLB pitchers let alone superstars.
Over the past few decades, we have seen the likes of Steve Avery, Brien Taylor, Roger Salkeld, Ben McDonald, Kerry Wood, Matt Anderson, Mark Prior and Kris Benson all rise to the top of pitching prospect lists only to fall later into relative obscurity. I am sure you can think of countless others from the past who fit the same description. Now, don't get me wrong, some of these pitchers were able to do some great things, even at the Major League level.
Who can forget Kerry Wood's 20 strikeouts against the Houston Astros in 1998 or Steve Avery's postseason mastery of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1991 NLCS? The point here is not to beat up on the pitchers who didn't become perennial All-Stars or Hall of Famers, it is to simply point out that there is an enormous amount of pressure on top prospects and the reality is that it is extremely difficult, especially when it comes to pitchers, to predict performance.
Fast forward to 2010 and, once again, another "can't miss" guy has arrived on the scene...Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals. Strasburg has electric stuff. He has an exploding fastball that hits 100mph and a curveball that can makes MLB hitters soil themselves before they can pull the trigger. But hey, I know what many of you are thinking. You are thinking that we have all heard this before but, this time, something seems to be different.
Last year, PSA was asked to go down to San Diego State to authenticate some memorabilia from Strasburg's last regular season start. The head coach and Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, was very personable and gracious during the event...as was his star player...Strasburg. In talking to members of our staff, Strasburg couldn't have been a more humble person. Oh and, by the way, he struck out 17 batters and threw a no-hitter too.
In addition to his humble nature, I don't think there is any doubt about his competitive fire. In retrospect, after his incredible debut performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates, perhaps the most impressive thing about it was the fact that he seemed to bounce back quickly from adversity and get stronger as the game went on, a sign of a true power pitcher.
I am sure many of you can remember watching Nolan Ryan pitch. Ryan seemed to throw harder and get better as the game progressed. In other cases, guys like Joba Chamberlain have a tough time maintaining their velocity for more than an inning or two. Chamberlain, who has shown great potential at times as a reliever for the Yankees, had a noticeable drop in velocity as a starter and that is part of the reason why he was put back in the relief role. It takes a certain physical and mental make-up to be a starter, which Strasburg appears to have.
I am not saying we should enshrine this kid in Cooperstown or anoint him as the second coming of Bob Feller, all I am saying is that there seems to be something different about Strasburg compared to many of the prospects that have come before him. He seems to have more than just good stuff; Strasburg appears to have a good head. Barring injury, it's his mental makeup that just might allow him to excel in the way that so many prospects before him could not.
I am rooting for him; I think a lot of baseball fans are too.
Never get cheated,
Editor In Chief