SECAUCUS, N.J. — Drafting pitcher Stephen Strasburg was the easy part for the Washington Nationals. Signing him could be much more difficult.
Strasburg was selected by the woeful Nationals with the first pick in baseball's amateur draft Tuesday night.
Later in the first round, the Toronto Blue Jays took University of Kentucky pitcher James Paxton with the 37th pick.
Paxton, a native of Ladner, British Columbia, is the fourth Kentucky player to be taken in the first round of the MLB Draft. He follows pitcher Joe Blanton (the 24th overall pick in 2002), outfielder Chad Green (eighth in 1996) and outfielder Everett Murray (fifth in 1975).
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Paxton finished this past season with a 5-3 record and a 5.86 ERA, ranking third in the NCAA in strikeouts per nine innings (13.2), just behind Strasburg and Oral Roberts' Mark Serrano. Paxton struck out 115 in 781⁄3 innings, and gave up 20 walks while holding opponents to a .266 average.
Strasburg is considered to be one of the most talented prospects in the event's 45-year history. The right-hander features a blazing fastball that's been clocked at 102 mph — and some nasty breaking stuff, too. He went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA this season for San Diego State, leading the Aztecs to their first post-season berth since 1991.
"He's a tremendous pitching package," Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We weren't going to pass on the best player in the draft."
But signing him might be a major challenge because agent Scott Boras is sure to seek a record contract — perhaps worth approximately $50 million.
Teams have until Aug. 15 to sign draft choices, otherwise they lose their rights.
"We don't negotiate through the media, so I'm not going to begin now," Rizzo said.
Strasburg, who had 195 strikeouts in 109 innings, went undrafted out of high school, but some say he has the ability to go straight from college to the big leagues.
"It's tough to say right now," Strasburg said. "I'm just really enjoying the time with friends and family right now. We'll see what happens."
Cincinnati chose Arizona State right-hander Mike Leake at No. 8. Leake was named 2008 Pacific-10 Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore. He went 16-1 with a 1.36 ERA this past season with 150 strikeouts in 1322⁄3 innings. His 40 career wins at Arizona State are tied for the most in school history.
Three players with Kentucky ties went in the third round — Louisville third baseman Chris Dominguez (86th overall, Giants) and pitcher Justin Marks (92nd, A's) and Western Kentucky third baseman Wade Gaynor (89th, Tigers).