Strasburg lone collegian on Olympic baseball team
San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg, whose 23-strikeout performance on April 11 brought him national attention, was the lone college player picked Wednesday for the U.S. baseball team headed to the Beijing Olympics.
Outfielder Matt LaPorta, traded by Milwaukee to Cleveland earlier this month in the CC Sabathia deal, also is on manager Davey Johnson's squad of mostly minor leaguers. Team USA still has one player to be selected to round out the 24-man roster.
"We've got a great ballclub," Johnson said. "It ain't going to be no cake walk. We've got our work cut out for us. It's going to be a great stepping stone for all the players."
The team's first game is against Korea on Aug. 13. Team USA, which won gold in Sydney in 2000, is back in the Olympics after missing out on a bid in 2004.
Eight major league organizations landed two players on the Olympic roster: Oakland pitchers Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill; St. Louis outfielder Colby Rasmus and infielder Brian Barden; Angels infielder Matthew Brown and pitcher Kevin Jepsen; Philadelphia infielder Jason Donald and catcher Louis Marson; Colorado outfielder Dexter Fowler and pitcher Casey Weathers; Detroit infielder Mike Hessman and pitcher Blaine Neal; Dodgers pitcher Mike Koplove and infielder Terry Tiffee; and LaPorta and pitcher Jeff Stevens of the Indians.
The other six players are Baltimore pitcher Jake Arrieta, San Francisco pitcher Geno Espineli, Florida outfielder John Gall, Mets pitcher Brandon Knight, White Sox pitcher Clayton Richard and Texas catcher Taylor Teagarden.
The U.S. team features 14 Triple-A players, seven Double-A players and Arrieta is the lone Class-A representative.
"We knew going in that we wanted a veteran club -- a team of guys who have been battle-tested, so to speak," Team USA general manager Bob Watson said. "But we wanted younger prospects as well. Guys with the fire to go out and showcase their talents on the international stage."
Johnson, fresh off managing the U.S. squad that lost 3-0 to a World team in the Futures Game during All-Star festivities at Yankee Stadium, is ready to get to work -- finally having a set roster.
Johnson, Watson and USA Baseball officials met for about seven hours after the Futures Game to discuss their roster.
Johnson will get to see his team together for the first time during preliminary workouts and preparation late this month in San Jose, Calif.
The manager likes the flexibility this roster provides. He has a couple of pitchers who could fit into the closer role -- Knight and Stevens -- and LaPorta can play both in the outfield or at first base and gives the U.S. team power in the middle of the batting order.
While LaPorta realizes this experience will only boost his chances of reaching the big leagues, he's not approaching the Olympics that way.
"More so it's the opportunity to represent this great country and put on the USA jersey, and I'm just so thankful for it," he said. "It's been like a roller coaster. There have been some good things and some bad things to go on the last couple of weeks. Overall it's been exciting. ... I can't say enough how great of an honor it is to represent the USA."
Johnson was scouting Team USA in Panama in 2003 for the Netherlands and watched the loss to Mexico that cost the United States a bid. He will continue to bring that up to his players, too, as a reminder and to keep them focused on the task at hand.
In 2000, Tommy Lasorda managed the Americans to the gold medal. Milwaukee Brewers ace Ben Sheets was the winning pitcher in the gold medal game. Baseball will come off the Olympic program for the 2012 games, though officials hope to be back come 2016.
"It's not too premature to say we've got the minds turning and we're trying to work things out," Watson said. "I believe the Olympics definitely are going to want to have baseball back in the fold."
Strasburg turns 20 on Sunday and is pitching overseas for the U.S. national team as a member of the top college players in the country. He will be a starter for the Americans, Johnson said.
"He's a power pitcher in the high 90s and he throws strikes," Johnson said. "That's kind of a rarity for guys in Triple-A. Here's a guy who pounds the strike zone."
Strasburg wasn't immediately available for comment, though his coaches at San Diego State were making attempts to reach him Wednesday.
Players who weren't on 25-man big league rosters as of June 26 were eligible for selection to the U.S. team. The American roster must be set by July 22.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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