When the Nationals took Drew Storen 10th overall in the 2009 draft, many views of the pick around the game were diametrically opposed to the one inside the team's draft room. Some saw Storen as a bargain pick, a discounted complement to No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg when the Nationals knew they were going to have to shell out record dollars for Strasburg and needed someone who would sign at No. 10 - the compensatory pick they got for not signing Aaron Crow a year earlier.
But the Nationals saw the Stanford product as a future closer, a bright, personable young man who just happened to come equipped with a mid-90s fastball and a tightly wound curve. More than that, they saw fate.
Not hours after he was drafted, Storen had Washington media members lapping up his stories about being a batboy for Cincinnati Reds games as a kid, when his father, sportscaster Mark Patrick, would take him from Brownsburg, Ind., to Great American Ballpark to get a taste of the majors. While there, Storen did an Expos game and got talking to Chad Cordero, the then-Expos closer who became a sensation during the Nationals' first year in Washington. But before the Expos ever became the Nationals, they had a fan in Storen, who had followed the Expos/Nationals ever since and even dreamed about playing for them.
"I've always been a Nationals fan," Storen said at his introductory press conference. "And a guy like Stephen Strasburg coming in, being associated with a young pitcher like that, there's going to be a lot of excitement associated with this team. This team is on the rise, I know that."
Those words seemed confident, if a little farfetched, at the time, but they're true now. And when Storen joins the Nationals bullpen tonight in St. Louis, the team is hoping he'll provide a lift for a bullpen that's been brilliant in some spots and awful in others.
The Nationals designated Brian Bruney for assignment after Sunday's game, shedding a power arm who'd had trouble putting any of his pitches inside the strike zone lately. In Storen, they'll get another power arm who's got a wider repertoire of pitches, a hint of deception in his delivery and an ability to paint the zone. But they've also got a 22-year-old rookie, the youngest player on their roster by nearly two years, which is why they'll break him in slowly.
Don't expect Storen to be working low-pressure situations for long, though. The Nationals see him as a future closer, and more presently, they've got a major need to fill in the seventh inning. If Storen is up to the job, the Nationals could finish the seventh, eighth and ninth innings with a pitcher who throws 96 mph and has three other offerings (Storen), a setup man who's got a nasty changeup to go with his low-90s fastball and a gangly delivery that throws hitters off-balance (Tyler Clippard) and a closer who can dial up a mid-90s fastball and sharp slider to attack hitters (Matt Capps). Clippard has struggled in his last couple outings and is teetering on the edge of overuse, but in an ideal world, the Nationals can groom Storen for the closer's role while making him part of a formidable 7-8-9 progression.
He doesn't arrive with the outsized hype that will accompany Stephen Strasburg in a couple weeks. But Storen's friendly demeanor belies an intense competitive streak that has him believing he can make just as big an impact as Strasburg, with whom he's often paired. Right away, he'll get a chance to apply support to a bullpen badly in need of it.