Stephen Strasburg can choose to listen to, or not listen to, the advice of anyone or everyone about his professional career.
It's all up to him and whoever he decides to trust.
But if there's one person Strasburg should listen to, one person who perhaps knows more than any pitcher in baseball history about what he's already going through and what awaits him in the near future, it's Mark Prior.
Considered by some to be the greatest pitching prospect ever to come along - much the same as Strasburg is now - Prior was the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft. He received a $10.5 million contract from the Chicago Cubs, the sweetest deal ever given a draft pick until Strasburg landed a $15.1 million windfall from the Washington Nationals as the No. 1 selection last year.
Prior's career started off great. He spent only two months in the minors in 2002 before going to Chicago and posting a 3.32 ERA in 19 starts. He then won 18 games in 2003 while leading the Cubs to the National League Championship Series. He was on the mound for the infamous Steve Bartman foul ball incident.
Numerous injuries derailed his career, however, and knocked him out of the majors in 2006 (see sidebar).
Today, Prior is arguably the best example ever that a phenom pitcher, no matter how highly touted, is guaranteed nothing in terms of long-term success.
Prior granted the Mirror an in-depth interview this week to offer advice for young Strasburg, who will make his pro debut today against the Curve at Blair County Ballpark and with the nation watching on ESPNews.
Prior's thoughts, in their entirety:
No introduction necessary
"I met [Strasburg] in passing. We ran into each other this offseason, and I wished him well. I watched him pitch once out here in San Diego and read a lot about him here in town, me living here and him being at San Diego State. I know he has a plus-plus fastball, throws 100 mph with a great changeup and a breaking ball. The sky's the limit for him.
"Obviously, I'm one of the few guys that probably understands what he's going through, and I probably don't even understand because things have changed so much in just the eight or nine years since I was coming up. The scrutiny is even more than it was back then, and the notoriety and attention is much greater than in 2002.
"He'll be fine. When I hear from people that know him, he's got a good head on his shoulders, so he'll be fine. I would tell him just have fun and try to remember as much as you can. Enjoy doing it while you're still in Double-A, and I'm sure he'll go to Triple-A before getting up into the big leagues.
"Down in Double-A, I was in West Tenn and played with a great bunch of guys. I was still fresh off pitching at USC, so I still had a little bit of that college mentality - let's go out and win as a team. I learned that there always is that team atmosphere, but in the minor leagues, sometimes it kind of gets lost because obviously everybody's individual goal is getting to the big leagues. For me it was still pretty fresh. We had a great bunch of guys, and I had a good time there."
Surround yourself with good people
"Not from a baseball standpoint, but I guess off the field it starts getting a little bit more complicated. It's about having good people around you. That's something I was taught young out here in San Diego from somebody. Surround yourself with good people who support or kind of have the same goals in life in mind that are in line with yours.
"I'm sure he has good people around him that want him to succeed and want what's best for him, and if you have those people around you, they keep you grounded. My family kept me grounded. I have an older brother and older sister that definitely kept me grounded on where I was and the pecking order of everything.
"For me, it was more focus on just playing. I mean, yeah, you've got a lot of money, there's a lot of attention, and I think he's even got more attention now because of all the media outlets. It's something that he's going to have to deal with.
"I'm sure that he's got the right kind of - this is kind of a negative connotation - but group. Sometimes it gets looked upon if you have guys around you. But [it's important to have] people who are your friends, your agents, your inner circle of three or four people that help you along and keep the same goals that you have, and that's to get to the big leagues and have a long, successful career."
There's no rush
"It's tough to say," Prior replied when asked if he was called up to the majors too soon. "I get asked this question a lot, and my first answer is back then in '02, of course I wanted to be up whenever they wanted me.
"I had a good spring training, and I felt like I had a chance to make that ballclub. I felt maybe not as a starter but maybe as a reliever. But I also understood going to the minor leagues and learning things. Looking back on it now, almost eight years later, I think I have a better appreciation for what the minor leagues teaches you.
"Stephen's going to go out, and for the most part, he's going to dominate at that level, just from a standpoint if he can locate a fastball and have a second pitch. He does have a plus-plus fastball, he does locate a second a third pitch, so he's going to dominate that level from that aspect. I think that's where he's ahead of most pitchers at that level, and I was a little ahead of everybody at that level.
"What you learn in the minor leagues is how to pitch every five days, learn your body and what you have to do to prepare yourself to get ready to pitch that fifth day. Those are the things that I think sometimes get overlooked. I'm wondering if maybe I should have spent another month or two just because I was down there for nine weeks, you don't really start breaking down or don't start wearing down that quick.
"You get into June, July, you start having to deal with having to pitch with fatigue or maybe you don't have as much [stuff] as you would like. Those are the things that, without the pressure of pitching in the big leagues, I don't think you can duplicate what you learn down there."
Transitioning from college
"I threw almost every Friday night and mixed in a couple of relief appearances on Tuesdays. I know the college game is a lot different now than when I was there from the standpoint of scheduling. I know they play five games a week now, so they're asking a lot out of the pitching staff. But for the most part it was every seventh day. I threw Friday and then I'd throw a bullpen maybe Monday and a light one Wednesday.
"I wouldn't say it was hard to adjust [to pitching every fifth day]. But it's something that, again, being down in the minor leagues, you're there - and I think he's probably there for the reason they sent me down - was those are the things you need to learn.
"You need to learn if you like to throw your second day, do you like to throw your third day, how much running do I need to throw in between. Those are the things that I think are more important for him to learn. From a physical standpoint, it helps learning yourself more than the opposing players."
How much is too much?
"I don't think there's one way of doing things. I don't think there's a certain pitch count that's, 'What's good for me is good for Stephen, and what's good for Stephen is good for the next guy.' Not only with Stephen, it's obviously a hot topic around baseball. You see what the Yankees are trying to with [Joba] Chamberlain for a year, year and a half. It's tough. I don't think there's an exact science about this.
"In my opinion, I worked really hard to stay healthy, and it just didn't work out. I think my situation has a lot of asterisks along with it. I got into a collision with Marcus Giles and landed on my shoulder. I got a line drive off my elbow and some other kind of random things thrown in there that might have played into my arm injuries.
"This goes back to what I said before: That's what being down in the minor leagues for him is more about than learning the hitters at that level. In reality, he's going to get moved up a lot quicker than a lot of those hitters are, and so learning the hitters for him, in my opinion, is important, but secondary to learning himself and what workloads can he handle right now.
"He's going to feel like he can throw 150 pitches at times and not think twice about it. That's the way I was. I threw 140 pitches my rookie year and didn't think anything of it. Did I pay the consequences down the line? Maybe.
"Those are the things that you learn being in the minor leagues and getting accustomed to that and training yourself to pitch every fifth day and handling the workload without that extra stress of, 'We've got to win this game because we're the Washington Nationals and we've got to do better.'
"I don't think there's a right or a wrong answer because everybody's different. Obviously every organization is searching for the right answer, and I guess you've just got to use common sense about it."
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.