- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Drew Storen just turned 22 years old, and two months before that, he signed a deal with the Washington Nationals that gave him a $1.6 million signing bonus.

He pulls up to the ballpark in a yellow pickup truck - not an immodest ride but one that certainly lets onlookers know he has done well for himself at a young age.

So you might be a little surprised to learn that Storen, the 10th pick in June’s MLB draft, thinks this whole minor league experience - living with a host family, busing around the Mid-Atlantic and dressing in clubhouses the size of a locker room at your local community center - is actually kind of cool.

“A lot of times you hear the extreme horror stories. With the book ‘Odd Man Out’ out, you’re hearing all that,” Storen said. “It’s really not as bad as everybody makes it. We get taken care of here.”

That Storen referenced a baseball book to debunk the myths about minor league baseball should come as no surprise to anyone who has been around him. He’s already a baseball lifer at 22, having grown up around big league clubhouses at the side of his father, longtime broadcaster Mark Patrick, and talking to Chad Cordero during a chance meeting of Nationals closers past and future while Storen was a ballboy in Cincinnati.

When the Nationals took him out of Stanford in June, he signed a day later in part because he said he missed playing; his season had been over for two weeks.

He blazed through Class A Hagerstown in a matter of weeks and did the same at Class A Potomac; Storen was promoted to Class AA Harrisburg on Tuesday. Even as he zeroes in on a stated goal of reaching the major leagues by September, he talks in almost reverential tones about the players with whom he’s fleetingly crossing paths.

“College baseball’s great, but these guys are really good,” Storen said. “We sit down in the bullpen every day and talk about how we love watching [Potomac second baseman Michael] Martinez and [shortstop Daniel] Espinosa. … That’s probably one of the coolest parts - watching guys who are that good.”

In some ways, it’s almost as if Storen is too good to be true.

After serving up a couple of home runs in his first week at Hagerstown, Storen has been borderline unhittable since. He walked only two batters in a combined 24 2/3 innings at Hagerstown and Potomac, striking out 37 with a 2.92 ERA.

Since he signed with the Nationals on June 10, a day after being drafted, he has done nothing to hurt his chances of joining Washington by the end of the season.

“He’ll get what’s coming to him in the end,” Potomac manager Trent Jewett said. “I think time wasted in the signing period is time wasted in the front and the back of your career. There wasn’t any of that. The guy wanted to play ball. He’s doing it, and it’s refreshing.”

Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a sharp curveball, Storen figures to be a late-inning presence in the Nationals’ bullpen by next season at the latest. He came to the Nationals as a rare draft-eligible sophomore itching to get into professional baseball - a product, he said, of an occasional streak of impatience.

But for the time he’s in the minors, Storen seems intent on soaking up everything he can.

He regularly posts updates after games on Twitter - as does his mother, Pam - and regards even the most grizzled minor leaguers as potential mentors.

Storen credits Hagerstown catcher Travis Reagan with helping him adjust to pitching in the minors, and at Potomac he was with fellow reliever Jesse Estrada, a 25-year-old who has shuttled between four minor league levels since he was drafted in 2004 but has never cracked the big leagues.

That relationship has become another source of knowledge for Storen.

“I’ve met a lot of guys that are first-rounders. They’re all normal guys,” Estrada said. “He’s a cool guy, and I hope nothing but the best for him. Anything I can help him with, I will.”

While Storen is racing through the Nationals’ system, their other first-rounder, No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg, is in the final week of a protracted set of negotiations that has delayed the San Diego State fireballer’s entry to professional baseball most of the summer and still could end without an agreement Monday.

Jewett bemoaned the signing process last week - “From this seat, you wish that didn’t happen. You wish that guys would treat it like it was done in [Storen’s] case,” he said - but the pitcher was more diplomatic about it.

“I knew the longer I sat out, the harder it was going to be to come back. But that’s just me,” Storen said. “A lot of the guys that are picked in the top 10 are starters. They’re not on the same track as relievers are, and obviously Strasburg’s on his own track. It’s kind of a unique situation for me, and coming out, first kind of struggling but then working through it was huge.”

Whether he’s teammates with Strasburg next week, next season or not at all, Storen wasn’t trying to be a poster boy for an old-fashioned signing process.

He was just a kid who had grown up around everything baseball had to offer, even those long bus rides and cramped clubhouses, and wanted his piece of it as soon as possible.

“I feel like I’m one step ahead of a lot of guys that got drafted this year just because I did get that early start,” Storen said. “I’m happy where I’m at. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

• Ben Goessling can be reached at bgoessling@washingtontimes.com.

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