Where Will Stephen Strasburg Start the 2010 Season?

How long will Stephen Strasburg remain a Nationals prospect before he becomes a bona fide Nationals pitcher? As of Tuesday night, there is still no decision from Washington as to where he'll start the season, be it in the minor leagues or in the starting rotation for a Nats team that desperately needs pitching help.

Strasburg will be chatting today at 12:30 p.m. ET on the Nats official website, and one has to wonder how many of the questions will be "are you coming up with the team in April? When will you start in the Majors? Can you throw a baseball through a barn door?" Actually, that last question is mine. The kid does throw cheese.

According to a report on MLB.com, the answer to those first two questions is still up in the air. Nats GM Mike Rizzo told Bill Ladson via text:

⇥"In all probability, Stephen would benefit from going to the Minor Leagues," Rizzo said via text message. "The official decision has not been made."
Rizzo talked with Sirius/XM's MLB Home Plate on Tuesday and mentioned that while Strasburg has great stuff, he's still not necessarily ready in all the other parts of the game.
⇥"He rarely pitched from the stretch in his college career. He's really too quick to the plate from the stretch. He's 1.0 [seconds] or under 1.0 to the plate from the stretch and has had the sense of elevating his fastball because of it. He has to learn how to control the running game, how to field his position, bunts and so forth. But he's never had failure and I think that the Minor Leagues not only teaches you how to handle failure but how to do those other little things that it takes to be a successful pitcher."
He's never had failure – something that's important to remember. It's impossible to determine how that can impact a young pitcher. Some pitchers can learn from failure in the Major Leagues and become better pitchers by getting thrown into the fire, learning on the job. Other players – in all sports, not just baseball – can't mentally deal with going from being the best in their sport at every level to abject failure at the top of the sport. Is it worth the Nationals rushing Strasburg into the rotation on a team that isn't supposed to contend for the NL East crown and screwing up his long-term potential in the process?

One promising note for Nats fans is that Strasburg seems to understand these things. He's spending his first spring training learning how to become a Major League pitcher. Mark Zuckerman has a great story on Nats Insider about the contrasting styles of Strasburg and Livan Hernandez, talking with Strasburg about the importance of "pitching" over just "throwing hard":

⇥Further evidence of Strasburg's understanding of pitching: In college and in the Arizona Fall League, he regularly hit 100 mph with his four-seam fastball. Yet he hasn't come close to cracking that magic number so far this spring. Is he still working his arm into shape to build up to that kind of velocity? No, he's making a conscious effort not to try to throw that hard.⇥

⇥"I'm not worried about velocity," he said. "Guys that can throw 100 can get lit up in the big leagues. A guy hits a 100 mph fastball. That's not pitching. I'm trying to go out there and pitch."⇥

It will also be interesting to see how money factors in. Clearly the Nationals are paying Strasburg a lot of money as the top overall pick, so how long can they afford to keep him in the minors, especially when you consider their attendance has been rather lackluster since opening their new stadium? Strasburg will fill seats, that's for sure. The Nats surely know the right thing to do would be to keep him in the minors, but if he's already one of their five best starters and they know he'll create buzz in Washington D.C. for a team that has yet to create a viable footprint in the town, it has to be hard not to bring him north when the season starts.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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