Storen first of 2009 class to taste pros
Nats' second pick of Draft debuts with Hagerstown Suns
HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- It was just 12 pitches, but it was a huge first step on a journey that Nationals relief prospect Drew Storen could not wait to begin.
Pitching the fifth inning of the Class A Hagerstown Suns' loss to the visiting Lakewood BlueClaws on Thursday night, Storen became the first member of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft's first-round class to make his professional debut.
"I missed playing," said Storen, who had gone 7-1 with seven saves as the closer for Stanford this season. "It's one of those things, there's no substitute for game situations."
Storen was drafted by the Nationals on June 9 with their second first-round pick at No. 10 overall, the one they acquired by being unable to sign last year's No. 9 pick, Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow (who has yet to sign with the Royals, the club that took him 12th this year).
This year's Draft was historic, with the Nationals becoming the first team to have two selections within the first 10 picks. So while fans may have to wait awhile during what are expected to be prolonged negotiations with No. 1 overall pick, right-hander Stephen Strasburg out of San Diego State, they can start watching Storen's ascent right now.
"This is a perfect situation, but that's been the story of my last couple of weeks," said Storen, hours before Thursday's game. "This is where I want to be. Everything is falling into place perfectly."
Though the word got out late that Storen would be making his debut in relief Thursday night several hours before the game, it no doubt added to the crowd at Municipal Stadium. Though the team has averaged 1,753 fans per game this season, on this weeknight they had a crowd of more than 3,000 on hand.
"In the last week, I haven't even played but even on my first day here in uniform, there were people waiting on the fence after I got done playing catch who just wanted to say hi and congratulate me and welcome me to Hagerstown," Storen said. "My name wasn't even on my jersey and they knew who I was. That was cool."
And at approximately 8:15 p.m., while his Suns teammates were taking their cuts at the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning, the fans got what many of them came for as Storen rose in the right-field bullpen and began warming up for one of the biggest moments of his life.
He took the hill in the top of the fifth and had some quick highs and lows in those one dozen pitches he threw.
His second pitch of the night, a fastball clocked at 96 mph, was deposited over the center-field wall by BlueClaws catcher Travis D'Arnaud.
"I tried to overthrow a little bit, but he's a good hitter and that's what happens," Storen said after the game. "Professional hitters don't care how hard it is. I learned that lesson tonight."
But he baffled Lakewood first baseman Jim Murphy with his offspeed stuff, catching Murphy looking for his first career strikeout.
He followed with a groundout by third baseman Travis Mattair and a lazy fly ball out from DH Jeremy Hamilton, who had already homered early in the game, for that first pro inning.
"It's like jumping into a cold pool," Storen said. "You jump in right away and once you're in there, you get used to it. I'm ready to learn from [tonight] and move on."
A Draft-eligible sophomore at Stanford, the 21-year-old Indiana native said he had actively hoped that it would be the Nationals who called his name, as far back as early spring.
When his Stanford roommate and best friend, Nationals prospect Jack McGeary, left for Spring Training, he sent along a message, only half-jokingly.
"I told him, 'Hey while you're there, just tell them I'd be fine with that 10-pick for them,'" Storen said. "Everything just fell into place."
Storen worked out for the club in Washington just before the draft and clearly impressed them with his stuff and his makeup, which matched up well with the organization's most pressing need: polished bullpen help.
Before the second day of the three-day Draft was complete, Storen was already signed (for a $1.5 million bonus), sealed and delivered to the DC fan base wearing Nationals jersey No. 26 (the same number he has on his back in his Hagerstown uniform), and throwing out the first pitch at the club's home game vs. Cincinnati that night, June 10.
While holding out seems to be de rigeur for many players these days, Storen was a refreshing change to the trend.
"His goals and aspirations matched up with our time frame," Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo said, "and he wanted to get out and sign right away."
Given his polish, his experience coming out of the pen and the Nationals' proven willingness and desire to bring up their kids based on their readiness, Washington fans may be able to look forward to seeing Drew Storen in that red, white and blue No. 26 sooner rather than later.
For now, he will be taking the mound every few days for the Suns, getting back into the rhythm that he only missed for a few weeks, and getting used to the professional life as he rooms with McGeary, living with a local host family.
Storen was the first first-round pick to sign, the first to join his club, and now the first to make his pro debut. Now the question remains if he become the first member of the Class of 2009 to make it to the big leagues.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.