VIERA, Fla. -- You'd think they'd be tired of the questions by now.
You'd think you'd get a "not again" blank stare when you mention Stephen Strasburg in the Nationals clubhouse, that there'd be some sense of resentment that the guy everyone wants to talk about is a 21-year-old who has yet to throw his first regular-season professional pitch, a kid who by all indications won't even open the season in the big leagues.
You'd think they'd have had enough of the hype by now.
Until you realize that they're still helping to feed it.
"This guy's legit good," Adam Dunn said. "Plus, he's a good kid. One of those special dudes."
Could he pitch in the big leagues right now?
"That's not even an argument," Dunn said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that."
Strasburg has made two spring starts, one against the Tigers and one this past Sunday against the Cardinals. He has pitched five innings, all scoreless. Both starts have attracted out-of-town writers, and both starts have attracted scouts who need to see the Nationals but didn't mind getting a look at the kid everyone has been talking about for at least a year now.
Could he pitch in the big leagues right now?
"Easy," one scout gushed after watching Strasburg. "I'll tell you what -- every time he pitched, they'd have a chance to win."
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Could he? Probably could. Will he? Not unless the Nationals have a major change in plans over the next few weeks -- a change they say isn't happening.
"I think I'm doing the organization a disservice if I knee-jerk," general manager Mike Rizzo said, without ever saying what the exact plan for Strasburg is.
So you can bet Strasburg will spend April pitching somewhere other than Washington, serving the dual purpose of giving him a chance to acclimate to a professional schedule and pushing back by a year the point where he'll be a free agent (and possibly when he'll become arbitration-eligible).
In the situation the Nationals are in -- they're highly unlikely to contend for the playoffs this year, with or without Strasburg in the rotation -- it's hard to blame them for taking the conservative route with him. The only negative is that because he throws so hard, he'll likely dominate minor-league hitters just with his stuff, and might not learn as much as he would in the big leagues.
And, let's remember, while Strasburg is young, he's five months older than the Tigers' Rick Porcello, who already has a full season (and 14 wins) in the big leagues.
Strasburg works hard to stay out of the argument, answering "I'm living in the now" when he's asked whether his early success has him thinking he can get big-league hitters out. He dismisses the five scoreless innings by saying spring stats mean nothing, and just in case you didn't get the idea, he adds, "It's out of my control," before he's even asked directly about the decision of where he begins the season.
The Nationals have talked to Strasburg about how to handle the media, but it's obvious this kid understands what he should say. He understands how he should act, which is a big reason his teammates have taken to him.
That, and the great right arm.
"It's unusual for someone to have that much hype and live up to it," Ryan Zimmerman said.
And the attention?
"I feel bad for him," Zimmerman said, "having to deal with all this before he even gets in his first game."
Strasburg said he hopes that maybe some of talk about him will help people notice the rest of the Nationals, just as happened with his teammates at San Diego State. And maybe that is happening, at least in some cases.
Sleeper ... Elijah Dukes: Dukes turns 26 this June, which means he will just now be entering his prime physical years. He heads to spring training as the Nationals' unquestioned starter in right for the first time, too. He will go undrafted in many mixed leagues and might wind up being owned in all of them before the end of the season.
Bust ... Nyjer Morgan: Morgan will go well before the player he replaced in center for the Pirates because of all that steals potential. But if you look past the steals -- like so many Head-to-Head points league scoring systems do -- we tend to dislike players that rely on hitting .300 to hold Fantasy value in mixed formats. Morgan still does have some potential to get better, but the fact so many are expecting that now, we see a player that will be hard-pressed to duplicate his 2009 progress.
Breakout ... Stephen Strasburg: Strasburg will vary widely in his draft position and auction cost from league to league, but until it is clear he will be starting in the majors, you have to consider him outside of the top 60 Fantasy starting pitchers to target on Draft Day. We cautiously project 10 victories and a mid-3.00 ERA. It wouldn't take a great year for this talent to outperform that, even with the bottom-feeding Nationals.
-- Eric Mack
Top Nationals Prospects (2010 destination)
1. Stephen Strasburg, SP, Double-A
2. Derek Norris, C, Class A
3. Drew Storen, SP, Triple-A
4. Chris Marrero, OF, Triple-A
5. Ian Desmond, SS, Majors
|Nationals outlook | 2010 Draft Prep Guide|
"I get so much more attention because of him," said reliever Drew Storen, the Nationals' other first-round draft pick in 2009.
Storen had a great first season in the minors, and without Strasburg, one of the big questions in camp would be whether he's ready for the big leagues (like Strasburg, he might be, but will likely begin in the minors).
Instead, he's stuck talking about Strasburg -- not that he minds.
"It's just cool to be around it," said Storen, who grew up around the media (his father is a sports-talk host) and enjoys it much more than Strasburg. "If the video game people were going to create a player, [Strasburg] is what they would create. I haven't seen anything to say he's not worth what they gave him ($15.1 million over four years).
"It's great to be his teammate."
The Nationals couldn't be happier. This is a team that hasn't had a winning season in the five years since moving to Washington, a team that has lost 205 games over the past two years, a team that once had such low television ratings that baseball tried to find out if the ratings were wrong.
"We need attention," club president Stan Kasten said.
They're getting attention, because Stephen Strasburg is attracting attention.
Maybe that's not right.
"I'd rather have the attention on the Nationals -- and so would Stephen," Rizzo said. "He wants to earn his accolades at the major-league level."
He'll get that chance, eventually. And his teammates fully believe he'll earn the accolades.
They don't mind the hype. They believe it.
"It's good to have that buzz, because he is the real deal," Dunn said. "He's not just somebody that someone says is going to be good."
And he's not someone his teammates resent -- no matter how many times you want to ask them about him.