The structure of professional baseball means that drafted players are almost always years away from making their big league debuts. With that in mind, some of the most surefire prospects fizzle out, while others fly under the radar until they start producing at the MLB level.
There have been few players as hyped as Stephen Strasburg. Publications like Baseball America sang his praises for years, and agent Scott Boras scooped him up as a client. Long before he was a Washington Nationals superstar with an electric fastball, he was an amateur project…with an electric fastball.
Just how good was Strasburg in high school?
Stephen Strasburg in High School
Stephen James Strasburg was born in San Diego, California. He played for West Hills High School in neighboring Santee.
Interestingly, he was not a surefire lock to be drafted out of high school. Strasburg was overweight, neglected his conditioning and had a penchant for yelling at his fielders when they made mistakes.
Despite the lack of maturity, it was clear that Strasburg had special talent. He finished his senior season with an ERA under 2.00, but he didn’t receive many looks at the Division I level. Strasburg decided to remain close to home and play for head coach Tony Gwynn at San Diego State University.
Stephen Strasburg College
After Strasburg arrived on campus out of shape, he decided that he needed to make wholesale changes to both his game and his demeanor. After losing 30 pounds, the right-hander started to make his mark on the NCAA for the first time.
Working as the Aztecs’ closer, Strasburg only allowed 10 earned runs in 37 innings as a freshman. Gwynn moved the righty to the rotation in 2008, and the rest is history.
With a fastball touching triple digits, Strasburg struck out 23 Utah Utes batters as a sophomore and threw a no-hitter against the Air Force Falcons as a junior. He also earned a spot on the U.S. National Team, where he won a Bronze Medal at the Beijing Olympics.
With his mark made on SDSU, Strasburg was ready for the next level of baseball, and he declared for the MLB Draft.
Stephen Strasburg MLB
The Washington Nationals selected Strasburg with the first-overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, and he quickly rose through the ranks.
After brief stops in the minor leagues at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, he made his Major League debut against the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010. He struck out his first batter in the first inning, and he totaled 14 strikeouts in his very first game.
Tommy John surgery nearly changed the course of his career, but after some struggles in rehab starts in Low-A Hagerstown, Strasburg returned in 2011.
His career has been marked by stints on the injured list, but he has lived up to all the hype. In addition to his accolades on the mound (nearly 1,800 strikeouts, over 30 wins above replacement), Strasburg is a three-time National League All-Star and World Series MVP. The Nats shocked the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2019 NLDS and went on to beat the Houston Astros in the Fall Classic.
Stephen Strasburg was not a lock to become a superstar, at least not in high school. Thanks to strict discipline and elite velocity, he has cemented himself as one of the best first overall picks in Major League Baseball history.