As everyone knows, pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg is going to have Tommy John surgery soon. It's terrible news for all fans of baseball, as Strasburg was one of the most exciting pitchers to watch this season. He electrified Washington, sold out stadium after stadium, and made baseball fans from all around the country turn on their televisions to watch him play. His fastball was devastating, his curve awe-inspiring. He held the National League in the palm of his hand, striking out over 12 batters per nine and posting a shiny 2.91 ERA and 2.10 FIP. And he did all this at 22 years old, a year after being drafted with the first pick in the 2009 draft.
It's funny, because not too long ago, the Rays had a pitcher in a similar situation: David Price. While not as hyped as Strasburg, Price was regarded the surefire number one pick in the 2007 draft. He was pushed through the minors and made his major-league debut a bit over a year later, also at 22 years old. While working out of relief, he set the majors on fire with his blistering heat and hard slider - a fire that culminated in his domination of the Red Sox in the 2008 playoffs. Since then, Price has developed into one of the best starters in the American League and the usurping ace of the Rays' pitching staff.
These two stories sound the same, but so far have quite different endings.
By comparing these two players, I don't mean to imply that Price is somehow a better pitcher than Strasburg. When both pitchers are at their best, Price may be close but Strasburg is still better. More refined at an earlier age, more dominant than Price ever was. It's tough to compare any pitcher with Strasburg; he's unreal.
But here's the sad truth: pitchers get injured. A lot. There have been countless examples of pitching wunderkids that have shined a bright light, only to see it extinguish quickly through arm injuries. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood are great recent example; Strasburg may be the next. I hopehopehope that's not the case - it would be such a sad loss to the game - but you can never tell with pitchers. Even the best scouts can't tell us how Strasburg's arm will hold up after surgery, or if his body will be able to stand year after year of 98 MPH fastballs and sharp breaking curves. Early reports don't look promising, but only time will tell.
And so, take an extra hard look at David Price next time he's on the mound. In my opinion, the Rays have one of the best medical staffs in the majors and manage their pitchers as well as anyone, but despite the best medical care in the world, David Price could have broken down too. Heck, he could go out there tomorrow and ruin his arm - those are the breaks with pitchers, especially young ones. The Rays are good, but they've also had some great luck.
I'll leave the final thoughts to Pedro Martinez. In early 2008, Pedro faced Price in a rehab start in Vero Beach and had some words to share afterward:
"He's amazing, that kid. He's amazing," Martinez said. "That kid is very mature for his time in [the pros], and very talented.
"Oh my God. God bless him and keep him healthy."
Price should be in the Cy Young discussion at the end of the year and it's only his second full year in the league. God bless and stay healthy - that's all we can ask.