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The Big Twenty: The beginning of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper

The Big Twenty: The beginning of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will be rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 13.

 

No draft pick in professional sports offers true guarantees and the Major League Baseball draft may be the biggest guessing game of them all. 

There are 40 rounds, over 1,200 players selected and even the best organizations may only find a few big leaguers each year. Per Baseball America, only 17.6 percent of players who were drafted and signed (900-plus each year) even make it to the majors.

While No. 1 pick phenoms in the NBA, NFL and NHL have at least decent success rates, baseball is a much different story. For instance, the first overall picks in MLB drafts from 2013 through 2019 have a combined 3.7 wins above replacement (WAR), according to Baseball Reference.

Sure, that includes recent selections who simply aren't yet big-league ready. But the first overall picks in 2013 (Mark Appel), 2014 (Brady Aiken) and 2016 (Mickey Moniak) haven't even reached the majors. Appel is now retired, Aiken has never pitched above Single-A and Moniak hasn't graduated from Double-A.

So, just because you get the first overall pick in baseball doesn't mean you are ensured a superstar. Yet somehow the Washington Nationals landed two of them in back-to-back years. In 2009, they got pitcher Stephen Strasburg. The following year he made his first start - and the Nationals drafted outfielder Bryce Harper.

Both were phenoms and prototypes for their position who were as can't-miss as baseball draft picks can be and the clear-cut No. 1 prospects the years they came out. And despite the uneven track record of No. 1 picks, they both panned out in Washington, becoming multi-time All-Stars and franchise players. 

Harper won NL Rookie of the Year in 2012, made six All-Star teams and won the 2015 MVP award during his time with the Nationals.

He also became one of the most marketable players in the sport.

Strasburg overcame a particularly troubled history for starting pitchers taken first overall. At the time he was drafted, no pitcher picked No. 1 had won a Cy Young award.

Since joining the Nats, Strasburg has made three All-Star teams and most notably was the 2019 World Series MVP. He was an indispensable part of their championship run.

 From 2002 through 2006, the first overall pick produced next to nothing. There is Justin Upton from the 2005 draft, a four-time All-Star. But then there's Bryan Bullington (2002, -0.2 WAR), Delmon Young (2003, 2.4 WAR), Matt Bush (2004, 2.6 WAR) and Luke Hochevar (2006, 3.5 WAR). That makes four busts in five years.

Really, the Harper and Strasburg picks couldn't have worked out much better for the Nationals. One guy won a league MVP and the other a World Series MVP. That's not a bad haul for back-to-back drafts.

But keep in mind that when they were picked, neither Harper or Strasburg was a certainty.
They each took their rookie contract negotiations down to the deadline. Both battled injuries early in their Nationals careers. And both were lightning rods for criticism as they came into their own as MLB players.

Ultimately, they developed into superstars and transcendent players, the best-case scenario for any No. 1 overall pick, much less two taken in consecutive drafts by the same team.

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Braves pitcher Mike Soroka out for season with torn right Achilles

Braves pitcher Mike Soroka out for season with torn right Achilles

Atlanta Braves ace Mike Soroka is out for the season after tearing his right Achilles tendon Monday night against the New York Mets.

Soroka was hurt in the third inning after delivering a pitch to J.D. Davis, who grounded the ball toward first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Soroka broke toward first to cover the bag, only to go down on his first step off the mound. The right-hander knew right away it was a devastating injury, one that ensures he won't be back on the mound until 2021.

"It's a freak thing that happened," manager Brian Snitker said, delivering the grim news after the Braves lost 7-2 to the Mets. "I'm sorry it did."

Soroka yelled in obvious pain and tried to walk gingerly for a couple of steps before dropping to his knees. He couldn't put any weight on the leg as he was helped toward the clubhouse with the assistance of Snitker and a trainer.

It was a major blow to the two-time defending NL East champion Braves, who had won five straight despite struggling to put together an effective rotation.

"Somebody else is going to get an opportunity," Snitker said. "Things like that happen. These guys will regroup. Somebody is going to get an opportunity to do something really good. Our young guys are going to continue to get better. We're going to be fine."

Soroka, who turns 23 on Tuesday, made his first opening day start last month after going 13-4 with a dazzling 2.68 ERA in 2019 to finish second in NL Rookie of the Year balloting and sixth for the Cy Young Award.

Soroka was making his third start of the season. He came in having allowed just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings but struggled against the Mets, giving up three hits and four walks. He was charged with four earned runs in 2 1/3 innings, the second-shortest outing of his career.

Unfortunately for Soroka, he won't get a chance to make up for it this season.

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Phillies OF Andrew McCutchen rips Marlins for not following coronavirus protocols

Phillies OF Andrew McCutchen rips Marlins for not following coronavirus protocols

When Major League Baseball began its season two weeks ago, the Philadelphia Phillies were following all of the league's protocols to conduct as safe of a season possible in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the Phillies were one of two teams that went this past week without playing any games. Philadelphia had six consecutive contests postponed after the Miami Marlins, the Phillies' opening weekend opponent, had a major COVID-19 outbreak within the organization. As a result, 18 Miami players tested positive for the virus. The Phils' traveling party was required to undergo additional testing as a result.

On Sunday, Philadelphia manager Joe Girardi admitted he was frustrated by the situation, but did not blame the Marlins for the outbreak. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen had a different stance on the matter.

"I was upset at everything that’s transpired through that — whoever decided to step out or not necessarily follow the health and safety protocol," McCutchen said on the latest edition of The Athletic’s Starkville podcast

"That upset me. What made me angry was that we, as the Phillies — we were the ones that ended up having to pay for that," McCutchen said. "We followed all of the health and safety protocols. We knew that was important. We understood that’s what we needed to do to be able to play this game. And we did everything right. And we paid for it."

RELATED: CARDINALS SEASON POSTPONED UNTIL FRIDAY AFTER MULTIPLE POSITIVE TESTS

The Marlins had multiple players test positive before the opening weekend Sunday finale occurred, according to multiple reports, yet they still decided to play. Plus, some members of the Marlins organization reportedly went out in Atlanta prior to the outbreak.

For McCutchen, who missed most of the 2019 season after suffering a torn ACL, not being able to play while the rest of the league was what impacted him the most. 

“And so for me, that was upsetting. I’m sitting here at home, watching 28 to 27 to 26 other teams play, and we’re sitting at home — all (testing) negative by the way," McCutchen said. "And we have to watch this happen while we did nothing wrong. So for me, that was very upsetting. It was very upsetting that we did everything right, and we were still the ones paying for it."

Unfortunately for McCutchen and the Phillies, the team's return to action will last just one game. Philadelphia's scheduled Tuesday matchup with the Yankees has already been postponed due to incoming tropical storm Isaias.

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