The first round of the Major League Baseball draft takes place tonight. Although it’ll never have the cachet of the NFL or NBA drafts, due to the anonymity of the players involved, baseball’s draft has taken small steps forward in recent years. For one, it’s finally televised thanks to the creation of MLB Network. More importantly the process toward signing picks has become slightly easier, although far from perfect, thanks to the slotting system enacted in recent years.
Still, compared to our other professional sports, the MLB Draft sits apart. The next couple days TV and the web won’t be inundated by draft ‘experts’ instantly handing out grades on every pick. Most sports fan probably won’t even know it’s taking place – scheduling a first round simultaneously with the NBA Finals Game 1 will have that affect.
In football and basketball the draft comes after most players have logged a few NCAA seasons, which serves as a de facto minor league for the NBA and NFL. Those players are about to enter the pros and we’re somewhat familiar with them. With baseball it’s players getting drafted and then assigned into a minor league system. Even the NHL draft is more of a glitzy affair since diehard hockey fans pay attention to the Canadian junior leagues. (It’s interesting, isn’t it, an 18-year-old high school senior can get drafted to play baseball, but doing so for basketball is strictly verboten.)
Look at it this way, if you consider yourself a sports fan, how many NCAA baseball players could you name off the top of your head? Or high school baseball players? Exactly. Granted, that’s changed a little bit in recent seasons with high-profile players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, but even players of their ilk spent time in the minors before getting called up. Although their signing bonuses afford them a nice lifestyle, the path to the big leagues takes time, there isn’t the instant gratification afforded by other sports during the leap from amateurs to the pros. That’s not even factoring in how teams can sign international players when they’re teenagers, eschewing the draft process completely.
The top three selections this year appear to be Oklahoma righty Jonathan Grey, Stanford righty Mark Appel and San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, according to MyMLBDraft.com. Appel could have been the No. 1 pick last year, but his signing demands were too high for the Astros. He ended up selected No. 8 overall by the Pirates but turned down their $3.8 million signing bonus offer to play his senior year at Stanford and graduate early. (See why this is confusing, as players can be drafted as many as three times.) For what it’s worth, Grey reportedly tested positive for Adderall, although there isn’t a penalty for doing so.
The Houston Astros have the top pick for the second straight season. Believe it or not the Yankees have three of the first 33 picks, earning compensatory selections for losing Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano in free agency.
Going back through old drafts can be a fun process, if only to look at all the bizarre selections. If you’re old enough, you might remember how much hype 1989 No. 1 overall selection Ben McDonald arrived with when the Orioles selected him. (If you go through the MLB draft history your standard reaction reading through many of the picks is an ‘Arrested Development’ style … Him?)
A Couple Random Draft Quirks Since 2000:
- Luke Hochevar was drafted in the first round, twice, including No. 1 overall in 2006 by the Royals. Other pitchers taken in the first round that season included Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Ian Kennedy.
- The 2005 first round was the best, so far, this century, with Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Bruan, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce and Jacoby Ellsbury all selected.
- The Padres probably wish they didn’t take Matt Bush No. 1 overall in 2004. He’s on track to be the third No. 1 overall pick to never reach the majors joining Steve Chilcott and the Yankees’ famous flop, Brien Taylor.
Scanning through the first rounds it appears baseball has gotten much better overall evaluating its talent. Still, unlike the NBA or NFL where guys enter the draft as arguably household names, there’s a lot of long bus rides in store for everybody picked tonight in Secaucus, N.J. on their road to the show. Grading a draft takes years, not seconds and is probably why the MLB Draft will remain outside the sporting spotlight in today’s need-it-now, knee-jerk society.