ESPN goes over the top with coverage

sports@macon.comJune 9, 2010 

The coverage for Tuesday’s debut of Stephen Strasburg, the top prospect in baseball, was somewhat overwhelming.

ESPN came on at 3:30 p.m. with “coverage.” But the game didn’t start until 7 p.m. What were they doing? Taping him as he drove to the park?

They had a countdown running at the bottom of the screen, with the time left before the rookie made his first pitch. A countdown? For a rookie?

And then, even though they did not televise the game, ESPN had a box on the top left of the screen throughout Strasburg’s start to keep up with his outing.

There’s no doubt it was the biggest event of baseball’s regular season. Well, unless you count umpire Jim Joyce robbing Detroit’s Armando Galarraga of his perfect game last week with his bad call.

Baseball needs more replays, by the way.

But Strasburg looks like a beast. He’s a tall, right-handed pitcher with stuff that people dream of having. Strasburg’s fastball is in the mid-upper 90s, and his curveball is ridiculously good.

It’s fun to see a baseball prospect of this magnitude. It doesn’t happen very often. We all saw on opening day when Jason Heyward made his splash in the big leagues, and after two months we know the impact he has had on the Atlanta team.

It was great for the Nationals’ fans, who haven’t had much to root for since the team moved from Montreal a few years ago. Before Strasburg, the only other thing that really made it worthwhile to go see was the President’s race, when people dressed up like former American Presidents race down the first-base foul line.

There is no doubt Strasburg could make a dramatic impact on the Washington franchise and on the NL East. The Nationals have fallen back a bit, but even if they struggle to stay near .500, the presence of Strasburg in the rotation will make a difference.

Teams are not going to want to face this guy. He’s a very special pitcher.

It’s kind of ironic that in the two years the Nationals were lucky enough to get the top pick in the draft, there were two of the best amateur players ever available. Monday the Nationals drafted Bryce Harper, who is every bit of the prospect Strasburg has been.

Harper is only 17 years old, but he’s a kid that’s already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That happened last summer. He’s a catcher now, but the Nationals are going to move him to the outfield.

And man, can he hit.

Harper has got the best swing you’ll ever see for someone not named Jason Heyward. He looks like a can’t miss prospect.

That’s said, oh, about 20 times a year about players. Every team has a can’t miss prospect. Some make it, and some don’t.

Heyward and starting pitcher Tommy Hanson are the future of the Braves, and they’ve assembled the best group of pitching prospects they’ve had in years down in the minor leagues.

The Marlins have called their phenom up, outfielder Mike Stanton. He could give them another bat to help their inconsistent lineup.

So the NL East is about to get very interesting. Young players are now going to be the focus, and the ones who make it could lead their team to the top of the division.

And you can bet that a year or two from now, when Harper makes his debut, the coverage will be just as crazy as it was Tuesday night.

By the way, the latest results from the All-Star balloting was released Tuesday, and the Braves players are doing a bit better.

If the balloting ended today, Heyward would be one of the three starters for the All-Star Game in Anaheim on July 13. He’s second for NL outfielders, behind Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun and in front of Los Angeles’ Andre Ethier.

Heyward definitely deserves to be an All-Star starter. He’s having a tremendous season, and he’s on pace for 30 home runs and 115 RBI.

Martin Prado is next in line on deserving to go to the game. He’s second in the balloting behind Philadelphia’s Chase Utley, who is not having a great season.

Prado is on pace to have more than 200 hits. And since he has been in the leadoff spot, the Braves have been a different team.

Prado needs to go.

Brian McCann is also second in his category, behind St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina. Troy Glaus is fifth in the first-base voting.

You can vote 25 times a day. Log on to mlb.com to cast your ballot.

Of course, the person that needs to be an All-Star more than anyone is Bobby Cox. Hopefully, NL manager Charlie Manuel will invite the retiring Cox to be on his coaching staff.

Talk sports with Bill from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on The Bill Shanks Show on Fox Sports 1670 AM and online at www.foxsports1670.com.

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