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Pretending Strasburg isn't ready

Hey, maybe the kid just needs to learn how to tie his shoes correctly ...

After getting his first in-person glimpse of Stephen Strasburg in Double-A ball, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday the right-hander "certainly needs more work down in the minor leagues."

On the other hand, Rizzo also made sure to classify any attempt to identify areas that could use improvement as "really nitpicking."

Washington's GM said he has a "definitive plan in my mind" for how to move last year's No. 1 overall draft pick through the minors and to the majors.

In a dozen innings, Strasburg has struck out 17 (terribly overmatched) Double-A hitters, walked two of them, and hasn't given up a home run. That's a dozen innings in three starts; the Nationals are being exceptionally careful with Strasburg, and the general assumption is that he won't be allowed to throw more than around 140 professional innings this season.

I can't really fault Rizzo for it, but he's dissembling just a bit. Rizzo knows, as does virtually every other baseball man who's seen Strasburg pitch this spring, that he's good enough right now to pitch for every major league team, and probably good enough to start for every major league team. I suspect he's better than half the No. 1 starters in the majors.

Again, I'll refer back to Mark Prior.

Like Strasburg, Prior was hailed as the greatest college pitcher anyone had ever seen.

Like Strasburg, Prior was drafted out of college at the age of 20.

Like Strasburg, Prior didn't pitch professionally the summer he was drafted.

Like Strasburg, Prior dominated Double-A hitters in his first professional engagement.

After six starts and 35 innings -- they didn't baby the kiddie pitchers as much, eight years ago -- Prior moved on to Triple-A, where he made three starts and dominated there, too. He debuted in the majors on the 22nd of May. Prior made 19 starts for the Cubs and pitched 117 innings. Among major leaguers who pitched at least 100 innings that season, Prior, with 11.34 strikeouts per nine innings, ranked just behind Randy Johnson and Johan Santana, and just ahead of Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez (feel free to roll those names around in your mind a few times, as I did). His strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn't quite as impressive; it ranked eighth in the majors.

Did Prior still have something to learn? Probably. The next season he went 18-6, dropped his ERA by nearly a run, and finished third in the Cy Young balloting. But as a rookie he was already one of the dozen or so best pitchers in the National League. He also threw 168 innings -- 117 in the majors, 51 in the minors -- as the Cubs shut him down in September. Stephen Strasburg isn't going to throw 168 innings. In the middle of the season, Prior averaged 112 pitches over the course of 11 starts, including one in which he threw 135 pitches. Strasburg won't do those things, either.

Many of Strasburg's numbers won't match Prior's. One thing that will be the same, though? Strasburg is going to make a lot of the planet's best hitters look really silly, and it will happen the moment he first steps on the mound at Nationals Park.