Strasburg-mania has Kasten, Nats pumped

Strasburg-mania has Kasten, Nats pumped

Nationals president Stan Kasten is looking forward to Tuesday night. That's when right-hander Stephen Strasburg will make his Major League debut against the Pirates at Nationals Park.

Stephen Strasburg

The first overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Strasburg, 21, has lived up to the hype, going a combined 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.

MLB.com caught up with Kasten recently to talk about the importance that Strasburg has to the club, both on and off the field.

MLB.com: Tell me about the excitement the organization is feeling with Strasburg set to make his Major League debut?

Kasten: It's something we certainly have been anticipating since he was drafted last June. To all of us -- it goes for me, [general manger] Mike Rizzo, all of our owners -- it is a significant step. It's just one of many that have us very enthusiastic and optimistic about our future.

MLB.com: What does it mean to the Nationals to have Strasburg in the organization, both on and off the field?

Kasten: As we have been building, we have been a very low-profile team, which is a frustration when you are in a big and important market as we are in D.C. Strasburg has certainly changed that dynamic. We are now the center of the universe in terms of attention in the world of baseball. We will be the center of attention on Monday night with the first pick of the Draft. We'll be the center of attention again Tuesday. And we hope, soon thereafter, we'll become a team that is worthy of constant attention as we become more competitive.

MLB.com: Is it unfair to say that Strasburg will become the ace of the Nationals' pitching staff starting Tuesday?

Kasten: I don't know about that. I've heard a lot of projections for him and it's unfair. He is 21 years old. Anything that he gives us at the Major League level this early is a plus. I have to admit that all of us in the organization have high hopes for his eventual future. I just don't know how quickly we can expect him to reach his full potential. Let's not expect too much, too soon. Let's expect that the normal maturation and development process will run its course. But soon enough, he will be an important guy you could count on every fifth day.

MLB.com: In your 20-plus years in baseball, have you ever seen this much excitement over a player like Strasburg?

Kasten: You know ... I haven't. I was saying that to John Smoltz, who lived through some pretty good times with me (in Atlanta). We had good teams and good pitchers. Baseball is not a sport that draws attention to individual players. It's not like other sports where one player will sell tickets and draw all the attention like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. Baseball is about the team. So I've never experienced this kind of attention, even this kind of frenzy over one player before, especially not a player who hasn't yet been in the Major Leagues. That's why we have to work so hard to keep everything under control, manage the flow of media requests.

MLB.com: With Strasburg in the fold, what do you see in the future for the Nationals?

Kasten: We are excited about (Strasburg coming), but it's only one step in what we think will be many steps -- all of which are coming together little by little to make us a competitive, entertaining team. We had a very encouraging first third of the season. We all know the litany of guys -- important guys -- that are coming off injuries right now. They will be joining us and making us better. All of those steps will help us get a little further down the road and achieving our ultimate goal -- which is being a consistent, competitive team -- year in and year out.

MLB.com: How will the team handle the Strasburg media frenzy?

Kasten: We don't know. You know how we have been doing it up until now. We have him do postgame press conferences after he pitches. We are careful and choose (what media outlets he talks to) on his off-days. I would expect that would continue for a little while. But at some point, we should work into a routine where the requests come down to a more normal level so that we don't have to have any special rules. That's my hope. We just have to see.

MLB.com: What about Strasburg's outings? Do you plan to treat him like you did with John Lannan, who was shut down after a certain amount of starts in 2007?

Kasten: That's the plan. It's not starts, it's total innings. Over the course of the year, he may skip a start or he may have some starts where we don't ask him to go so long because I think Mike and (pitching coordinator) Spin Williams have a plan to last even the whole season potentially. It's silly to plan that far ahead because too many things can happen. So let's see how it works.

We have closely monitored his innings and will continue to closely monitor his innings. We will remember he is still just a 21-year-old, and that it is important to be cautious with someone who could do so much good for us in the future.

MLB.com: What has impressed you about Strasburg on and off the field?

Kasten: His ability is, of course, extraordinary. There is no overstating his physical ability. But it has been impressive to watch his maturity, focus, seriousness and preparation. I'm impressed by how good he has been about new things.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.