Past debuts by pitching phenoms offer comparisons to Strasburg
That's the description I've most often seen of
The descriptions of his stuff are mouth-watering: 100 mile-per-hour fastballs with movement, unhittable low-90s sliders, and a changeup that rivals the first two pitches. Some thought the Nationals would stick him straight in their major league rotation last summer as soon as they had drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick. Some have said he could be an ace the moment he sets foot on a major league mound.
Starting tonight, we'll find out whether the hype that has been so deafening is justified when Strasburg makes perhaps the most eagerly anticipated major league debut, well, ever. That he's doing it against the Pirates, a team that has scored just 3.28 runs per game on the season, more than only the miserable Orioles and Astros, works in his favor, but even for a pitcher as talented as Strasburg, making the leap to the major leagues can be both intimidating and challenging.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the major league debuts of six of the most-hyped (and most expensive) rookie pitchers in major league history. In doing so, we'll set aside those who made their debuts in relief (such as $10,000 farm boy
In the midst of one of the great pennant races in baseball history, best remembered for
Purchased from the International League's Baltimore Orioles after the 1924 season for a record $100,600, the 25-year-old Grove was handed the Athletics' Opening Day start on the strength of his 111-39 record over five minor league seasons. Though the A's rallied to win the game in extra innings, Grove was overmatched that day and struggled for most of his rookie season, finishing with a 4.75 ERA that would be the worst of his career. His struggles ended there, however, as he led the American League in ERA in 1926 and went on to have one of the finest pitching careers in the game's history, winning 300 games and being elected to the Hall of Fame.
The first pitcher ever taken with the top overall pick in the amateur draft (Strasburg was the 14th, 12 of whom were drafted out of college), hard-throwing lefty
The fifth-overall pick in the 1982 draft out of Tampa's Hillsborough High School, Gooden struck out 300 men in 191 innings in A-ball in his full-season debut in 1983, and in 1984, he broke camp with the Mets as a 19-year-old who had never pitched as high as Double-A. Gooden was sharp in his debut and, after a hiccup in his second start (3 1/3 IP, seven hits and six runs, all earned, while taking the loss against the Cubs), he went on to enjoy one of the best starts to a pitching career in major league history. In 1984, Gooden won the Rookie of the Year award on the strength of a 17-9 record, 2.60 ERA, and a league-leading 276 strikeouts (in 218 innings!). In 1985, he won the NL Cy Young award and the major league pitching triple crown, leading the majors in wins (24 against just four losses), ERA (1.53, second only to
The parallels between Prior and Strasburg are plentiful. Both are San Diego natives. Both were drafted out of southern California colleges (USC for Prior, San Diego State for Strasburg). Strasburg was the top pick in the 2009 draft. Prior, who went second in 2001 and likely would have gone first had St. Paul native
Prior was just short of dominant as a rookie, striking out 11.3 men per nine innings and 3.87 men for every man he walked while posting a 3.32 ERA. He was even better in 2003, posting a 4.90 K/BB while going 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA for a Cubs team that came heartbreakingly close to the franchise's first pennant since 1945. That last was Prior's undoing. Though his mechanics were considered flawless, Prior was unable to withstand the riding he took from manager
The last highly-touted pitching prospect to dominate the minor leagues as completely as Strasburg has this year was Lincecum, another college product. The 10th pick in the 2006 draft out of the University of Washington, Lincecum dominated low- and high-A ball that year, then started 2007, his first full professional season, by going 4-0 with a 0.29 ERA and 13.4 K/9 in five Triple-A starts before making his big league debut on May 6. It's thus informative to see that the 22-year-old Lincecum struggled in his debut, though one must also consider that he was facing the best offense in the league, not one of the worst. Lincecum was solid as a rookie, but didn't show his true greatness until his sophomore season in 2008, when he won the first of two consecutive NL Cy Young awards.