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Will Stephen Strasburg ever achieve his full potential?

May 01, 2013
  • Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg is off to a 1-4 start this season.
Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg is off to a 1-4 start this… (Kevin Liles / Getty Images )

Stephen Strasburg was supposed to be a pitching phenomenon when the Washington Nationals drafted him No. 1 overall in 2009.

He's definitely shown signs of greatness and, at age 24, there's still plenty of time for him to reach that lofty status, but there have already been some bumps along the way.

After missing more than a year following Tommy John surgery, Strasburg enjoyed a stellar season in 2012 but was shut down by the Nationals late in the year for precautionary reasons.

This year, Strasburg is off to an uncharacteristic 1-4 start and experienced discomfort in his arm while pitching Monday night, although he and the Nationals say he shouldn't miss his next scheduled start.

Writers from around Tribune Co. discuss the chances that Strasburg will ever achieve his full potential. Join the conversation by leaving a comment of your own.

Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune

Baseball can be a brutal business, especially for those who are expected to achieve greatness. Tom Seaver was that guy coming out of USC in 1967, and there were very few moments when you didn’t know he was going to have a great career. Seaver was not handed a set of limits. He threw 251 innings his first year with the Mets, piling up 18 complete games.

Strasburg, like almost all modern pitchers, is getting the kid-glove treatment. The odds are against him achieving his potential, but that’s not anything new, really. For all the Hall of Famers such as Seaver and Nolan Ryan, the road to Cooperstown, N.Y., is littered with the likes of Herb Score, Gary Peters, Stan Bahnsen, Mark Fidrych, David Clyde, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

Talent guarantees a spotlight; the spotlight doesn’t guarantee a curtain call.

[Updated at 11:45 a.m.:

David Teel, Newport News Daily Press

Is Stephen Strasburg another David Clyde or Nolan Ryan? Chances are, he falls in the middle, but we can only hope that the fates spare him the arm ailments that derailed Clyde.

Strasburg, the No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft by the Washington Nationals, is a classic power pitcher, blessed with size (6-foot-4) and arm strength (197 strikeouts in 156.1 innings last season). But he missed 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, threw limited innings in 2012 and experienced arm discomfort in Monday’s loss at Atlanta.

Strasburg is 1-4 this year, but that’s more a function of the Nats’ anemic offense than his pitching. In fact, his 3.13 ERA is lower than last season’s 3.16. So no cause for panic.]

[Updated at 12:02 p.m.:

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times

If "his full potential" is defined as "one of the greatest pitchers ever," well, the odds say probably not. Stuff happens. And, really, what kind of credible answer could anyone give when Strasburg is just 24, and pitching in his second full season in the major leagues?

But Strasburg did so well last year -- in his first full season -- that the Washington Nationals endured heavy criticism for shutting him down in September. How could the Nationals expect to be taken seriously, or so the argument went, if they voluntarily surrendered their best arm before Washington's first trip to the postseason since 1933?

To ask this question now appears to infer Strasburg has taken a decided turn for the worse this season. He hasn't. The 1-4 record is misleading. His ERA is lower than last season. He is not pitching fewer innings per start. He is not giving up a significantly higher number of walks, hits or home runs. His strikeouts per nine innings are down -- from 11 to 9 -- but his fastball velocity is not.

If the nerve irritation that popped up this week is nothing serious -- and that's a big if -- then Strasburg should be just as effective this season as he was last season. That would make him one of the best pitchers in the game.

David Selig, Baltimore Sun

Stephen Strasburg could be one of the top three pitchers in baseball for the next decade. He could go to the All-Star Game every year and win a Cy Young Award or two.

But that would still fall short of the enormous expectations set before he ever threw a major league pitch -- or after he struck out 14 batters in his debut. (Strasburg hasn’t done that again in 50 starts since.)

He's had Tommy John surgery, been shut down early (for no good reason) and now doesn't seem to be completely right.

He still has a career 2.96 ERA, and there's no saying he won't be a front-line starter for years to come. But if you define his "potential" as a game-changing flamethrower who will make us forget the names Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens, then it seems unlikely he's going to live up to all of that.]

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