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Mountain West Preseason Poll
Armed and Dangerous
By Abbey Mastracco
SAN DIEGO – Just a
few short hours after one of Major League Baseball’s biggest
personalities was humbled, one of college baseball’s biggest
arms marveled at the fact that Alex Rodriguez was just now
figuring out that baseball is a team sport.
“There are eight players behind me when I’m on
the mound, and I definitely feel that if it wasn’t for them then
we wouldn’t be able to win games.”
This was coming from a flame-throwing
right-hander who last season not just broke, but shattered
several San Diego State, Mountain West Conference and NCAA
pitching records. This coming from the first amateur player to
be selected to the Olympic team since Team USA started playing
professional players in 2000. This from a player who struck out
23 batters against Utah last season and was still hitting 99 on
the gun in the ninth inning. This is a player who tossed two
one-hitters, one two-hitter and owned a conference ERA below
1.00 (0.63, to be exact).
And this is the player that is expected to hear
his name, Stephen Strasburg, called first in June’s 2009 MLB
Draft. No diva mentality here.
“My only expectation is to go out there and
answer the bell every time I’m out and just help put my team in
a position to win the game,” Strasburg said.
While his attempts to keep his team in the
spotlight are honorable, his draft qualities are too
overwhelming to ignore.
At 6-4, 220 pounds, the consensus All-American
throws three solid breaking pitches and a fastball that tops out
at 101 mph with a run between 4-6 inches that cuts in on
right-handers. His repertoire includes a slurve and a changeup
and a new two-seam sinker he’s just recently added. And his
control is almost unwavering – last season his strikeout to walk
ratio was a splendid 8-1 (133 strikeouts, 16 walks).
He shows tremendous poise on the mound in
pressure situations. Strasburg went 4-0 pitching for Team USA
team that went 24-0 over the summer and made two starts for the
Olympic team in Beijing. He’s lucky enough to have a head coach
in Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn who knows all about pressure
situations, and is smart enough to take his advice.
And Strasburg displays an immense mental
toughness and discipline that came from being broken down before
building himself up.
“There’s times when you feel like you can’t take
one more step but you have to,” Strasburg said. “The game works
in mysterious ways. You’re going to have bad outings and you’re
going to have good outings but you have to keep a level head
Coming out of high school, Strasburg went
undrafted. He weighed about 40 pounds more and his velocity was
about 8-10 mph less. And that same coach who is giving him
advice now wasn’t so sure about Strasburg back then.
“I didn’t see it,” Gwynn said.
Strength coach Dave Ohton didn’t see it either.
In fact, after the first week of conditioning Ohton told
Strasburg, “I think you should quit.”
coach Rusty Filter was the only one who really saw anything.
“[Filter] said ‘I just really feel like this guy
could be something special.’” Gwynn said. “So I said ‘Ok, go get
“He’s like a second father to me,” Strasburg said
of his pitching coach. “He’s always had faith in me, even when
everyone else didn’t.”
Filter started with the weight loss, developing a
plan with Ohton of weights, sprints and endurance. It was not
easy, Strasburg says, but with results so impossible to ignore
he kept at it, becoming meticulous and disciplined about working
out, getting better and proving his critics wrong.
And somewhere along the line, Strasburg grew up.
“I always thought I had it in me,” he said.
The chubby, redheaded kid with a temper to match
the hair is gone. The kid who most thought couldn’t hack it,
whose teammates ragged on him and who was once told he should
just quit is a shell of his former self.
“I think it was all just a matter of time and
just getting the confidence that I needed,” Strasburg said.
“It’s just a learning process and I definitely learned a lot
since I’ve been here and I know there’s still a lot I still have
With a dominant threat like Strasburg healthy and
his arm healthy, SDSU’s chances of winning on Friday nights look
good. And the Aztecs typically win with Strasburg on the mound,
wheeling and dealing at 100-plus mph for nine straight innings –
much to the dismay of some agents.
Concerns over Strasburg’s durability are only
natural, as high-velocity guys have been known to fizzle out in
the minors after being plagued with injury problems.
But Strasburg, who has had the same mechanics
since high school, remains unconcerned. He has no plans on
limiting his innings this season to appease any agents or save
his arm for his pro career. He has looked into different
representation options and acknowledges that Scott Boras is
omnipresent in the Southern California baseball world, but
Strasburg admits the draft is the furthest thing from his mind.
There’s only one reason Strasburg is thinking
ahead to June, and it doesn’t have a dollar sign attached.
“I’m kind of not really looking at that right
now,” Strasburg said. “I feel like this team is really capable
of getting to the next level and getting to a regional right
now. I feel like if we take care of business on the field, all
the other stuff is going to work out.”
(photos courtesy of SDSU Media Relations