NEXT No. 4: Stephen Strasburg

This story appears in the Dec. 14 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

NEXT 2010 content: No. 1 Kevin Durant | No. 2 Chris Johnson | No. 3 John Wall | No. 4 Stephen Strasburg | No. 5 Melanie Oudin | No. 6-10 | No. 11-15 | No. 16-20

Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, The Ace and The Closer, sit side-by-side
in an empty concrete dugout at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. A few hundred feet
away, a lone groundskeeper pounds the dirt around home plate with a
slap-slap-slap that echoes off the vacant grandstands. The last wisps of
daylight are beginning to fade over Estrella Mountain, to the west, and the
desert chill is rolling in from the east. "Well, here we are," Strasburg
says with a smile as the two of them kick back, having traded in their
Washington Nationals jerseys for T-shirts and jeans. "What do you think? Do
we look like a couple of big league saviors?"

Honestly? No. Here in the Arizona Fall League, where MLB teams send their
top prospects to fine-tune their way into winter, Strasburg and
Storen look more like a couple of Arizona State undergrads who've wandered in from
nearby Tempe. But 2,300 miles away, in another empty stadium, Nationals Park
in Washington, D.C., a front office full of baseball men know better. At
least they hope they do. They've looked into the future of their franchise
and chosen these two, The Ace and The Closer, to lead the Nats out of the
wilderness. "But admit it -- you know a lot more about him than you do about
me," Storen says with a glance toward his present and future teammate. "It's
okay to admit it. Hey, you want me to get his autograph for you?"

When the players laugh, the groundskeeper suddenly realizes he has company. He looks over, then runs across the field to fire up the stadium lights. "Every player sent to the AFL is supposed to be a big deal," the man says
later. "But these two? Everyone tells me these two are a really, really big
deal. Sure things. The kind of guys you don't make sit in the dark."