SECAUCUS, N.J. - Drafting pitcher Stephen Strasburg was the easy part for the Washington Nationals. Signing him could be much more difficult.

Strasburg was selected by the woeful Nationals with the first pick in baseball's amateur draft last night, a move that was long expected.

Considered one of the most talented prospects in the event's 45-year history, the righthander features a blazing fastball that's been clocked at 102 mph, with some nasty breaking stuff, too. He went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA this season for San Diego State, leading the Aztecs to their first postseason berth since 1991.

"He's a tremendous pitching package," Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We weren't going to pass on the best player in the draft."

But signing him might be a major challenge, because agent Scott Boras is sure to seek a record contract, perhaps worth approximately $50 million. Teams have until Aug. 15 to sign draft choices, otherwise they lose their rights.

"We don't negotiate through the media, so I'm not going to begin now," Rizzo said.

Strasburg led Division I pitchers with 195 strikeouts in 109 innings this year, and was the only amateur on the U.S. Olympic team that won a bronze medal in Beijing last summer. He was undrafted out of high school, but some think he now has the ability to go straight from college to the big leagues.

"It's tough to say right now," Strasburg said in a phone interview on MLB Network. "I'm just really enjoying the time with friends and family right now. We'll see what happens."

One person who thinks it's realistic is Strasburg's coach at San Diego State, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

"I think he's a lot closer than people think," Gwynn said. "If he does get to the big leagues, he's got the kind of stuff, the kind of baseball savvy, he could be successful."

Rizzo sounded content to let Strasburg develop at a steady pace.

"Some players advance quicker than others, but there's always a learning curve," Rizzo said. "As far as I'm concerned, there's no pitcher or player that's major league ready coming out of the draft. They've never experienced the wear and tear of a professional season."

With the second pick, the Seattle Mariners chose North Carolina slugger Dustin Ackley, who has batted at least .400 for three consecutive seasons.

Eleven of the first 15 picks were pitchers, considered the strength of this unpredictable draft class. *