SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — Drafting pitcher Stephen Strasburg was the easy part for the Washington Nationals. Signing him could be much more difficult.
Strasburg was selected by the woeful Nationals with the first pick in baseball's amateur draft Tuesday night, a move that was long expected.
Considered one of the most talented prospects in the event's 45-year history, the right-hander features a blazing fastball that's been clocked at 102 mph — and some nasty breaking stuff, too. He went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA this season for San Diego State, leading the Aztecs to their first postseason berth since 1991.
"He's a tremendous pitching package," Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We weren't going to pass on the best player in the draft."
But signing him might be a major challenge, because agent Scott Boras is sure to seek a record contract that easily exceeds the $10.5 million Mark Prior received after he was drafted in 2001.
Teams have until Aug. 15 to sign draft choices, otherwise they lose their rights.
Strasburg leads Division I pitchers with 195 strikeouts in 109 innings this year, and was the only amateur on the U.S. Olympic team that won a bronze medal in Beijing last summer. He struck out 23 in a game against Utah last season and threw a no-hitter with 17 Ks against Air Force this year.
Strasburg went undrafted out of high school, but some think he has the ability to go straight from college to the big leagues.
"It's tough to say right now," Strasburg said in a phone interview on MLB Network. "We'll see what happens."
One person who thinks it's realistic is Strasburg's coach at San Diego State, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
"I think he's a lot closer than people think," Gwynn said. "He's got the kind of stuff, the kind of baseball savvy, he could be successful."
Rizzo, however, sounded content to let Strasburg develop at a steady pace.
"There's no shortcut process in this. It's a process that we can't rush," Rizzo said. "As far as I'm concerned, there's no pitcher or player that's major league ready coming out of the draft. They've never experienced the wear and tear of a professional season."
With the second pick, the Seattle Mariners chose North Carolina slugger Dustin Ackley, who has batted at least .400 for three consecutive seasons.
Also represented by Boras, Ackley has 22 home runs and 70 RBIs this year, helping North Carolina earn its fourth straight trip to the College World Series, which begins this weekend.
Ackley played mostly first base for the Tar Heels as he recovered from elbow ligament replacement surgery this season. But his impressive speed makes him a candidate to switch to center field as a pro.
"This is a guy we thought could be here in a short period of time," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We think this kid's got a really nice future."
It was Seattle's highest pick since 1993, when the Mariners took Alex Rodriguez first overall.
The San Diego Padres grabbed high school outfielder Donavan Tate at No. 3.
A gifted all-around athlete, Tate was a baseball and football star at Cartersville High in Georgia, and he has committed to play both sports at North Carolina. He is the son of former NFL running back Lars Tate.
Only a few years ago, the baseball draft was held in virtual obscurity via conference call. This year it went prime time for the first time.
With commissioner Bud Selig announcing picks from the podium, the first round was broadcast live on MLB Network. The only thing missing was a Green Room filled with anxious prospects sporting flashy suits — most declined the invitation.
One local prospect did show up, however. High school center fielder Mike Trout from New Jersey sat in a replica dugout with more than a dozen friends and family members, who rejoiced when he was selected 25th overall by the Los Angeles Angels.
"It's been a great experience," Trout said. "A once-in-a-lifetime deal. It was the best feeling in the world."
Selig would like to see more prospects attend in the future. Several Hall of Famers were on hand as club representatives, including Al Kaline, Tommy Lasorda and Billy Williams.
"We can do more to boost this event," Selig said, "but this is a huge move in the right direction."
Eleven of the first 15 picks were pitchers, considered the strength of this unpredictable draft class. Eight in a row went from Nos. 5-12.
The fourth and fifth selections were players who soared up draft boards late.
Pittsburgh went for Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez, a late bloomer, and Baltimore chose high school right-hander Matt Hobgood out of California.
San Francisco took another righty, Zack Wheeler out of East Paulding High School in Georgia. The Giants picked right before his hometown Atlanta Braves, who were thought to be interested in Wheeler.
The Braves then selected Mike Minor, who joined David Price (2007) and Jeremy Sowers (2004) as Vanderbilt lefties to go among the first seven picks.
The Nationals were the first team to have a pair of top-10 picks. They chose reliever Drew Storen at No. 10, a right-hander from Stanford.
That pick was compensation for Washington failing to sign its selection at No. 9 last year, Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow. After playing in an independent minor league, Crow went back into the draft pool this year and was chosen No. 12 overall by Kansas City.