The Spoils Of Losing

As we wind down the 2008 season, the Washington Nationals - and a few other clubs - have their eyes glanced partially at just what this disappointing season could bring them. After all, the first pick in the draft is still up for grabs.

For the San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and the Washington Nationals, there is something to play for; sort of. Those three teams still have a shot at getting the first pick in next June's draft and what is appropriately called "The Stephen Strasburg Lottery."

Strasburg, a right-hander out of San Diego State, looks to be the consensus number one pick for whichever team finishes with the worst overall record this season.

At this point, the Mariners hold a one-game "advantage" over the Nationals, with the Padres are three-games out of the Strasburg Lottery, with all three teams having four games left to play. That's not to imply at all, that any of those teams will purposely choke over the final four games, but at this point, losing isn't so bad for any of those teams. Washington (99 losses) and San Diego (97 losses) each have hopes of at least avoiding the century mark in losses this season, while Seattle's loss to the Angels Wednesday night made them the first to 100 losses.

Strasburg is often compared to Rays phenom David Price and was the only amateur on the US Olympic team that took a bronze medal home from Beijing this summer.

Relying on a fastball and curve, the 6' 5", 215 pound Strasburg is an imposing figure on the mound. Scouts love his curve that is generally around 80 miles per hour and breaks down and in on right-handed hitters. Which makes it most effective is Strasburg's ability to change speeds on the pitch, dropping it as low as 76 miles per hour and cranking it up to the mid-80s, depending on the situation. His fastball sits in the mid-to-upper-90s and also has some late movement. Occasionally, Strasburg will mix in a change-up, but doesn't throw it too often, although it's a good enough pitch that he will be able to use it at the pro level.

For the teams that miss out on Strasburg, there are some other nice players available just after Strasburg.

College players Alex White (North Carolina) and Grant Green (USC) are both colorful players who rank high on a number of team's lists as potential first round picks.

Green is generally considered to be the top position prospect for the 2009 Draft. A shortstop, Green generates comparisons to Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki defensively and to Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria at the plate. He had a successful season in the Cape Cod League this summer and was tabbed as the league's top prospect.

White, a 6' 3", 193 pounder, is a right-hander who relies on location to get hitters out. White went 13-3 with a 2.83 ERA this past season for North Carolina and struck out 113 hitters in 101.2 innings. Over two innings with the Tar Heels, White has compiled 19 wins and a 3.87 ERA pitching 200 innings. He's got a good fastball, slider mix and locates all of his pitches well.

For teams preferring to look to high schools for talent, there are three pitchers and an outfielder who dominate the early rankings.

Left-handers Tyler Matzek and Matt Purke have both been impressive and will have decisions to make as to whether or not to pursue college or jump to the pro ranks.

Matzek throws four pitches and spots his low-90s fastball well. Most scouts believe that he has the stuff to easily project him as a high first round pick. Matzek actually put himself squarely on the scouting radar when he stole the show in a pre-season matchup last spring. Scouts flocked to the meaningless game to watch Lutheran High School's Gerrit Cole, who at the time was considered to be the top prep pitcher for the 2008 Draft. While Cole wound up slipping to the 28th overall pick, where the Yankees grabbed him, Matzek, who opposed Cole that day, pitched for Capistrano Valley High School and lit up the radar guns. From that game on there was an ever increasing number of scouts tailing the left-hander.

Matzek is able to keep consistent arm speed whether he's throwing his low-90s fastball or a tight, 75 mile per hour curve. Perhaps the pitch that Matzek will be best known for is a slider that has late break and is hard to distinguish on its way to the plate. Many of the best hitters he faced were unable to pick up his slider and hit it with any consistency.

Purke already has a low-90s fastball, but can sometimes get a little sloppy against right-handers, although lefties have a very tough time against him. Purke pitched on the Junior National Team this past summer.

Right-hander Jacob Turner was reaching up to 94 miles per hour this past season and is already 6' 4", 205 pounds. He has simply overpowered hitters, but he'll need to develop some complimentary pitches to go with the heat, although his curve showed some development. With another season of work, he could come into the draft as the top high school right-hander next June.

Then, there's outfielder Donovan Tate who projects to be a five-tool player. The Cartersville, Georgia product is 6' 3", 200 pounds and has shown great natural instincts both at the plate and playing center field. His arm, speed and plate discipline are especially developed and he projects to have solid power once he completely fills out. Scouts who have seen him use words like "explosive" and "premium athlete" to describe Tate, who might find himself ranked as the best high school position player come draft time.

While it will be easy to find three extremely strong prospects, having a shot at Strasburg is the key. At this point, he's pretty well ahead of the other players and figures to be the first one taken, barring an injury or signability issues that can always arise.

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