The Washington Times - August 16, 2009, 01:06AM

By JAY LeBLANC

With the midnight Monday signing deadline rapidly approaching, Stephen Strasburg - the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft - has yet to agree to terms with the Nationals. The much-hyped San Diego State right-hander has spent his summer away from the game and crunching numbers with superagent Scott Boras, and his situation is hardly unique. As of Saturday night, only 16 of the 32 first-rounders - and only five of the top 10 picks - had signed with the organizations that called their names on June 7.

Meanwhile, the Nationals’ second first-round pick, Stanford closer Drew Storen, has breezed through the lower levels of the minors. The 22-year-old righty, who signed for a below-slot $1.5 million bonus the day after Washington made him the 10th overall pick, has climbed all the way to Double-A Harrisburg, compiling a 2.70 ERA and an impressive 38-to-3 K-to-walk ratio along the way. “It fit perfectly for me, and I wasn’t about to hesitate to get my career started,” Storen said last month in an interview with National Pastime.

Storen isn’t the only 2009 draftee off to a good start in the minors. Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez, the fourth overall pick by the Pirates, earned a quick promotion from short-season Class A to Class A and has hit .358 with five homers in his first 27 games there. Cal outfielder Brett Jackson, the 32nd overall pick by the Cubs, is in Class A after a pair of promotions and has hit .331 with five homers in 42 pro games at three levels. Outfielders A.J. Pollock (17th overall, Diamondbacks), a Notre Dame product, and Jared Mitchell (23rd, White Sox) of LSU are holding their own in Class A. And it’s not just college kids who are enjoying outstanding pro debuts. High school draftees Jiovanni Mier (21st, Astros), Randal Grichuk (24th, Angels), Mike Trout (25th, Angels) and Reymond Fuentes (28th, Red Sox) are all batting over .300 in Rookie ball, and No. 5 overall pick Matt Hobgood tossed five shutout innings in his most recent start for the Rookie-level Bluefield Orioles.

Storen entered the draft with much less fanfare than Strasburg but has a great shot of becoming the first member of his draft class to reach the majors - quite possibly as soon as this September - and many of the other early signees will start next season higher up on the minor league ladder than the first-rounders that held out. By choosing not to haggle over what, in many cases, would be a difference of several hundred thousand dollars or less, these players have accelerated their timetables and put themselves in position to reach the majors - where the big money is made - sooner. Big league front offices can only hope that the members of next year’s draft class will learn from their example.

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Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.