Menhart impressed with top pick Strasburg
It is likely the biggest decision the Washington Nationals have ever had to make, one that the national media will be awaiting with bated breath, and one that prominently involves Paul Menhart.
Menhart, a 1987 Fitch High School graduate who helped the Falcons to their first state title that year, is a pitching coach in the Nationals organization, and served in the same capacity during the Arizona Fall League when the crown jewel of Washington's organization - top pick Stephen Strasburg - made his professional debut.
Strasburg has been the toast of the baseball world since the Nationals selected him first overall in last summer's amateur draft and signed him to a record $15 million contract. In big league camp right now at Viera, Fla., Strasburg's destination when camp breaks is what the organization is mulling right now.
"It's a unique situation," said Menhart, who coaches at Single-A Potomac in the Carolina League and is in his fifth year with the organization. "Right now, he's getting a bowl of information and opportunities and he's taking advantage of it. There are a lot of pros and cons being discussed as to what is in the best interest of the Nationals and Stephen himself. There are a lot of people discussing that decision and it will be the right one for all parties involved."
Menhart first met Strasburg in an instructional league prior to his pitching for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the fall league, where he went 5-1 in six starts.
"He got a taste of professional life in the AFL and he handled it all well," said Menhart, who pitched parts of three seasons with the Blue Jays, Mariners and Padres.
The 21-year-old Strasburg had a meteoric rise. He won a bronze medal with the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, where he was the only collegiate player on the roster. Then last year at San Diego State, the junior went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 109 innings.
"You can't hide too many guys that throw 100 miles an hour," Menhart said. "He's well beyond his years. What you see a lot with the majority of guys who throw as hard as he does is a violent action. With Stephen, it doesn't look like he's putting much effort into his pitches. The ball just jumps out of his hand."
When Menhart first met him and talked pitching, Strasburg told him he didn't have too many opportunities in college to use his changeup, which changed in the AFL.
"What he lacked in college was the ability to utilize his changeup," Menhart said. "He said, 'I've been wanting to throw this thing but I haven't had to.' I told him, 'You're going to. You're going to face some young kids who are just about big leaguers.' That AFL is no joke, but he's not afraid to face anybody. In college, even though they have aluminum bats, he could just throw it right by you."
While his fastball is what initially brought Strasburg nation acclaim, Menhart has been impressed with his secondary pitches.
"He has a great feel for his breaking ball," Menhart said. "A lot of 100-mile-an-hour throwers don't have that. And a little-known fact that is starting to get known is that he has incredible arm speed on his changeup."
Strasburg, who is under the tutelage of Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty and pitching coordinator Spin Williams, is slated to make his spring training debut March 9 against the Tigers, and Menhart will be watching.
"Maybe I'm not caught up in all the hype because I've been treating him just like everyone else," Menhart said. "He's ahead, so there's less development. Working with him has been fun, don't get me wrong, but we have a group of coaches who are in it for the right reasons and that's for the development of these kids to be big leaguers. Whether you're a first-rounder or a 50th-rounder, the same goal is in play and that's to maximize each kid's own ability. Everybody has a different timetable."
And soon, a decision will come, and wherever Strasburg is sent, Menhart knows it will be the right choice.
"There is a reason for whatever decision is made," Menhart said. "I see every possible option and they all make sense."
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