Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Nationals' Storen Has a Bright Future in Strasburg's Shadow

Drew Storen's biggest challenge is to hone his location without losing his blazing speed.
Drew Storen's biggest challenge is to hone his location without losing his blazing speed. (By Chris Knight -- Patriot-news)

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Friday, August 28, 2009

No fireworks heralded Drew Storen's arrival in Washington, no on-field question-and-answer session with fans. Drafted by the Nationals on June 9, he signed a day later, donned a Nats jersey, threw out a ceremonial first pitch and pocketed his bonus of $1.6 million -- nice money, but well below the usual payday for players picked 10th in the first round. Then it was off to the minor leagues to work on his craft, that of an aspiring major league reliever.

In this, the Summer of Strasburg, the video montages were reserved for the Nats' other pick, the No. 1 player drafted overall. After all, a lot is riding on Stephen Strasburg's right arm. But there's a lot of promise in Storen's right arm as well.

Since joining low Class A Hagerstown on June 18, Storen has been promoted twice, to high Class A Potomac on July 19 and to Class AA Harrisburg on Aug. 11, a nice present on his 22nd birthday. That most recent move makes another possible. No, not to the majors, but to the Arizona Fall League, where he'll be one of six Nats prospects -- including Strasburg -- playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs.

"He's not going to get called up to the big leagues this season," General Manager Mike Rizzo said. "He needs more seasoning than that. I don't believe that any draft choice, [that] it's a positive developmental thing for him to come right to the big leagues. We like the progression he's shown so far."

With reason. Through Wednesday, Storen is 1-1 with eight saves and a 2.20 ERA in 24 appearances. He's allowed just seven walks compared with 43 strikeouts, and eight earned runs on 20 hits. He's holding opposing batters to a .172 average and his WHIP is a stellar 0.83.

"He has a great feel for what he considers his stuff," Potomac pitching coach Paul Menhart said. "And that stuff itself is outstanding."

Of course, as with any young pitcher -- even Strasburg -- there are some things to work on. Rizzo and Menhart concur: Storen's biggest battle will be with location.

"His first couple of outings, even in low [Class] A, he came in throwing 95, 96 [mph], and he got hit, which was a shock to his system," Rizzo said. "He's a cerebral guy and a great kid, and he reached out to the pitching coaches and asked for advice. It's much more powerful than if they come and give you advice. So he was a quick study in that regard to go get help. Certainly after that, his numbers have been outstanding, probably the best in minor league baseball since those first couple of outings."

The second pitch of his pro career was a 96 mph fastball that the batter hit "about a mile," according to Storen, who can smile about it now. "It was up in the zone. At school, the college hitters, you could kind of get away with it. Every time now, before I get on the mound, I tell myself, 'Get it down.' That's all I worry about, is getting the fastball down."

The challenge for Storen (6 feet 2, 180 pounds) will be to hone his location without losing any of his blazing speed.

"It's probably the weakest aspect of his game, especially of his fastball," Menhart said. "He's going to battle because he throws so hard. He's a full-effort guy. We don't want to take away any velocity or action and turn him into a control-type pitcher. Sometimes his wildness can be effective."

The Nats don't worry about Storen's learning curve. He's got two years at Stanford under his belt, and if the Nats had decided not to send him to Arizona this winter, he would have returned to Palo Alto to pursue a degree in product design. The field allows Storen to combine his love of drawing with an interest in creating new products.


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