May 03, 2009

The Washington Nationals are primed to select San Diego State star pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, sources said.

The Nationals will not be scared off by the high price tag expected to be set by the rightander Strasburg, which is believed to be $50 million-plus, a Nationals source said. Asked whether there was any chance they'd take someone else, a team official answered, "No chance I know of.''

Acting Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo wouldn't guarantee who he's taking, but said regarding Strasburg when reached by phone, "It's fair to say, going into it, he's the No. 1 player on our board.

"We can say it. There's not anybody who can jump ahead of us,'' Rizzo added. "He's an outstanding talent. He's got all the tools to be a great player.''

Rizzo wouldn't absolutely commit since the draft is a month away. But he did say, "As of now, he's the top guy.'' The Mariners and Padres pick second and third, behind Washington.

The Nationals remain one of basbeall's worst teams, but young pitchers Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmerman are giving the Nats hope in their rotation. A Nationals official said "it would be nice'' for Strasburg to join the rotation by July. Strasburg is a rare collegiate pitcher seen as major-league ready.

Baseball executives say the dropoff between Strasburg and the next best players is stark. Dustin Ackley, a first baseman at North Carolina who's expected to play center field professionally, plus pitchers Alex White of North Carolina and Kyle Gibson of the University of Missouri, are considered the next best prospects available in the draft. This is not considered an especially deep draft.

Strasburg, a San Diego product, is considered among the best American amateur prospects ever, and is expected to top the previous highest signing bonuses for draft choices, which were in the $10 million range (Mark Prior is the record holder at $10.5 million, with Mark Teixeira second at $9.5 million).

Executives believe Strasburg, who is 10-0 with 147 strikeouts and 15 walks for San Diego State this season, will seek a six-year MLB deal for at least $50 million. He is being advised by Scott Boras, who is expected to try to draw a parallel between Strasburg and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who signed for $52 million over six years after the Red Sox paid a $51 million posting fee for his rights.

Nationals president Stan Kasten has said they will take the best available player, while always suggesting there's precedent for what the top draft choices get. By all indications, Strasburg hopes and expects to be a precedent-setting case. There may be extra pressure on the Nationals to sign their top pick as they failed to sign pitcher Aaron Crow, their No. 1 pick, last year. The Nats also have the No. 10 pick, which is compensation for that failure.

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