Many rules have changed in the Major League Baseball Draft due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and the new television agreement with ESPN. Here's your quick cheat sheet as you watch the draft, the first one to be shown on television:
When: June 7-8. Only the first round will be televised.
How is this different?: Not much; the draft has usually spread over two days in recent years.
Where: Orlando, FL, on the Disney's Wild World of Sports campus
How is this different?: Until this year, it was done by conference call. You'd be surprised how poorly that translates on television. (Or maybe not.)
Watch: ESPN2 – 6/7 – 2-6ish p.m. ET (first round); BaseballChannel.tv for all else
How is this different?: It's never been televised before. Also, this is the largest digital blitz ever by MLB Advanced Media, the online arm of MLB. Certainly, this will be no NFL Draft extravaganza; it's still on a Thursday afternoon and still only on the Deuce.
Why: The draft divvies up players in the United States and Canada roughly evenly between teams, much like all the other drafts. The worst teams draft first and the best draft last, attempting to create more competition.
How is this different?: It's not. There was talk about making it a true international draft during the CBA negotiations, but it went nowhere.
How: Teams draft on a five-minute clock, keeping roughly the same order between rounds. Exception – certain picks can be lost or gained due to compensation for free-agent signings last winter. This explains the "sandwich" picks between the first and second round that have extended the length of the first round by approximately 35 picks. It also explains why the selection order in the first five rounds does not exactly match the 2006 win-loss records.
The draft runs up to 50 rounds, though a team can "pass" at any time, pulling itself out of the draft entirely. Most teams are expected to bail 35-40 rounds in, though some inevitably stick it out. (Don't worry; you won't have to watch them all. It's unlikely anyone outside the first half-dozen rounds will get the major league per diem.)
How is this different?: The supplemental first round has doubled in size due to compensation changes in the CBA.
Who: High school seniors and college junior and seniors are eligible to be drafted. They don't have to apply to be eligible for drafting, like the NBA. If a player doesn't want to be on that team, they just don't sign; they go back to school or wait until 8/15. No skin off the team's teeth; they get another pick in next year's draft.
How is this different?: The team used to hold rights until shortly before the next year's draft. Now teams and players must negotiate a bit more quickly. Also, teams now get compensated for not signing a player.
Storylines: It's hard to know the people involved in the draft. After all, it's almost impossible to gamble on college baseball. Therefore, here are a few teams and players of note; please feel free to drop this knowledge on your roommate while they cluck at you disapprovingly for watching the MLB Draft.
- Scott Boras: Evil, evil sports agent that doesn't want you to draft his client and why does he want such ill for your team and so evil! Evil, of course, unless you're one of his clients and he can secure a contract 2-3 times larger than anyone else and will bend the rules or find loopholes to do so. Some of you may have noticed this in the job description for 'sports agent'. Some teams will not be able to afford his demands; others will simply refuse to work with him. His clients will not mind dropping in the draft terribly; salaries are not strictly slotted like in other sports, allowing a team lower in the draft order to pay more to entice a player to skip college or the like. (More on salary slotting later.)
- Tampa Bay Devil Rays & David Price: Tampa has yet again earned the #1 pick by being the most miserable during the 2006 season. Tampa's last #1 pick was Delmon Young, who has worked out insofar as he is not in prison quite yet. They will definitely draft David Price, the latest sinister wunderkind. Price is completely different from that young man and will likely be an early fan favorite. He throws hard with his left hand; he works well with the press; he heals puppies with a casual touch. Feel free to point out to your friends in Tampa that he'll look great in rehab with all the other pitchers abused in college. (Also, you have friends in Tampa? Have you considered the path your life has taken?)
- Devin Mesoraco: His recent workouts with teams and lack of serious catching prospects anywhere have caused this gentleman to be the traditional late-rising draftee; he could go as early as #4 to the perpetual cheapskate Pittsburgh Pirates. As a proud recent graduate of Punxsutawney High School, he also provides proof that the town does not appear from a haze every year like some kind of groundhog-laden Brigadoon.
- Chicago Cubs/Arizona Diamondbacks: What do these two teams have in common? Bud Selig doesn't like how they draft. While MLB does not have a true salary slotting system, they have an informal one. Teams that are willing to pay more for players (and are willing to deal with Selig nemesis Scott Boras) are a thorn in the side of MLB, upsetting the parity of the draft and (more importantly) cost the other teams more money in their negotiations. If these two teams draft highly-desired players and pay them more than the players drafted ahead of them, Selig might drag his heels on the Tribune Company's sale of the Cubs or generally make Arizona's lives miserable. It sounds like a conspiracy, sure, but this is the same league found guilty of collusion in a court of law in the last 15 years. If either team takes a 'signable' player, Selig has made his point rather well.
- Washington Nationals: They just raised ticket prices rather sharply. Expect them to show where the money goes with a huge payout to Mike Moustakas, Matt Wieters, or Rick Porcello. Detroit will probably snatch up the one of these three that are left.
- Phillippe Aumount: Pretty much the only player affected seriously by the "and Canada" part of the draft rules, this hard-throwing righty will go in the first round or so. He doesn't even have a high school baseball team. Also, he's Quebecor, which makes him the closest thing to an Expo the league will see for a long time. Toronto fans are desperate to see him in blue, but he's a high school pitcher (not their drafting style) and probably won't last all the way to the Blue Jays at #16.