After doing my recent post on Dwight Gooden as a teenage phenom, I started wondering about Stephen Strasburg’s earlier pitching days. Was he touted as a future star in high school? The answer’s no. The San Diego Union-Tribune hardly mentioned Strasburg when he was at West Hills High School (which plays in the Grossmont North League of San Diego). Their first feature on Strasburg didn’t come until spring 2007, when he was a freshman at San Diego State.
At the time, one National League scout compared him to a guy named A.J. Griffin, another San Diego guy, who went to the U. of San Diego: “Griffin was a more polished pitcher. He always showed that he was tough and a winner and everything else.
“That guy’s not afraid of anything.”
The impression scouts got when they watched Strasburg?
“That he’s afraid of his shadow.”
Rusty Filter, Strasburg’s pitching coach at San Diego State, said: “I thought he was going to be a dominating guy [as closer]. It was more believing in himself. He didn’t have any type of awareness of what he actually looked like. Physically he’s a big guy, he throws hard, he’s got a good breaking ball. We said, ‘Come in and be that guy. Live up to that.’ ”
Strasburg struggled to close an early-season game against USC, allowing four runs in the ninth inning of a game the Aztecs won in extra innings. The next game, he pitched three innings against Cal State Fullerton. Strasburg retired nine straight batters from the sixth through the eighth.
SDSU coach Tony Gwynn: “As he walked by me, he said an expletive that I can’t repeat. But that’s when I knew that he was going to be fine. From that point on, he was the ninth-inning guy.”
Strasburg was named Co-Freshman of 2007 in the Mountain West Conference, and said: “I’ve started all my life, and it was definitely different (being the closer). I think I’ve gained that mentality.”
The N.L. scout said: “He’s come a long way in a year. I can’t believe what they’ve done with him.”
By May 22, 2008, Baseball America’s Jim Callis was saying about the 2009 draft: “It’s still early, obviously, but Stephen Strasburg is at the head of the class right now. A lot can change over the next 13 months, but he’d be the easy No. 1 pick at this moment. His fastball and slider have just devastated hitters all season.”