Strasburg wins Golden Spikes Award
First overall Draft pick named nation's top amateur player
ST. LOUIS -- There will be a time, in the not-too-distant future, when the topic of conversation regarding Stephen Strasburg will be about him, the Washington Nationals and just when/if he's going to sign.
That subject was put on the back-burner on Tuesday afternoon when Strasburg was named the 2009 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award winner, given to the nation's top amateur baseball player.
Considered to be college baseball's version of the Heisman Trophy, the presentation of the Golden Spikes Award took place at All-Star FanFest during a live show on MLB.com. Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick in June's First-Year Player Draft, joins a prestigious list of previous winners including David Price, Pat Burrell and National League All-Star starting pitcher Tim Lincecum.
"It's just a tremendous honor," said Strasburg, the third pitcher in the past four years to receive the award. "You look at all the players who were past Golden Spikes winners. To be considered to be in that caliber as a college player, it's an amazing feeling for me.
"I remember three years ago, coming into San Diego State and really wondering if I was even going to have a spot on the team. It's been a roller-coaster ride the last three years for me, but it's all worth it. Bottom line, if you want something bad enough, you have to go out there and get it. I'm extremely happy to be here."
There was little suspense in who was going to win the award this year, and all five finalists who were in St. Louis for the announcement seemed relaxed as a result. Strasburg, the National Player of the Year and Louisville Slugger first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball as well as the recipient of the Dick Howser Trophy as the Collge Baseball Foundation's top collegiate player, led the country in strikeouts (195) and ERA (1.32) while going 13-1 overall. He walked just 19 batters in 109 innings and the two-time Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year led San Diego State to the the school's first appearance in an NCAA Regional in 18 years.
The other finalists were certainly deserving. Dustin Ackley, the No. 2 pick in the Draft to the Mariners, finished second in the nation in total bases, hitting .417 with 22 homers and 73 RBIs and earning ACC Player of the Year honors. Alabama's Kent Matthes, the lone finalist to have begun his pro career (with the Colorado Rockies' affiliate in the short-season Northwest League), tied for the national lead in home runs (28) while hitting .358 and driving in 81 runs. He was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
If not for Strasburg, the two other pitchers on the finalist list may have gotten more serious consideration. ASU right-hander Mike Leake, taken No. 8 overall by the Reds in the Draft, led the nation in wins with 16, was second to Strasburg in strikeouts with 162 and finished with a 1.71 ERA. He was named the Pac-10's Pitcher of the Year for the second straight year.
Kansas State's AJ Morris helped his team make it to Regional play while going 14-1 with a 2.09 ERA and five complete games. He's the one Golden Spikes finalist who has signed -- with the Nationals -- and the fourth-round pick has been working out, waiting to make his pro debut. He was a first-team All-American as well.
But, in the end, it was Strasburg's show. He entered the college season as the top arm in the nation and did nothing to lose that distinction, punctuating his collegiate career with a no-hitter in his final home regular-season start. Considering Strasburg entered the Aztecs program as a self-admitted soft, out-of-shape thrower, having him emerge as one of the top college pitchers of all time is a testament to his work ethic and the commitment he made once he set foot on campus.
"It's a lot of hard work, a lot of blood, sweat and tears," Strasburg said. "I remember getting to San Diego State, the first week of conditioning and I couldn't get through the warmup. I was around 30 pounds heavier than I am now and I was pretty weak, mentally and physically.
"I credit all the hard work and the coaches and teammates I've had through the years that have really helped me become the ballplayer I am today. Hopefully, I can carry that on to the future."
Just when that future will begin is still up in the air, as the Nationals have until August 17 to sign their top pick. Having experiences like pitching in the 2008 Olympics -- Strasburg wholeheartedly endorsed returning to the Olympic Games in 2016 should the opportunity arise -- have allowed Strasburg some glimpses at what the next level will look like. He knows adjustments will be made and that a pitcher can't take any hitter off like he might be able to on occasion at the college level.
"I think the big thing, especially at the college level, not every team is going to have a Dustin Ackley hitting one through nine," Strasburg said, giving a shout out to his fellow Golden Spikes finalist. "The big thing is you have to go out there, conduct yourself as a professional, don't worry about the highs and the lows, because they are going to be there, and keep on going out there and give it everything you have."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.