mlb-draftIf an MLB Draft takes place and no one is around to notice it, does it actually happen? The general sports fan might be forgiven for not realizing that today is the start of the MLB Draft, otherwise known as the First Year Player Draft and technically known as the Rule 4 Draft (Rules 1-3 stipulate you don’t take about 1-3). The results will probably be mostly buried underneath continued coverage of the NBA finals, Game 4 of Blackhawks-Kings, MLB action and the ongoing Biogenesis investigation instead of being the media spectacle that is its NFL counterpart.

So why is this? There are a number of factors that contribute to its lack of visibility including the structure itself, the players themselves and how they progress through the system among other things. Up until 2007, the draft was not even televised at all and now efforts are being made to increase coverage and attention. The most ‘visible’ MLB Draft experts such as Keith Law and Jonathan Mayo are nowhere near the popularity of Mel Kiper, Mel’s Hair or Todd ‘Sun Tan’ McShay.

The sheer structure of the MLB Draft is different from other pro drafts in that it lasts 40 rounds, compared to 7 of the NFL and NHL along with the ‘mimiscule’ 2 rounds of the NBA. These players are drawn from the high school and college baseball ranks which are not nearly as popular as college football and college basketball, meaning the casual fan is not as familiar with top draftees as they would be with RG3 or Blake Griffin. Unlike top picks in the other Big 4 leagues who are expected to make immediate impacts, top MLB picks are assigned to the multi-tiered minor leagues and might not see the Majors for several years. That is if they even reach it all, which a vast majority of draft picks do not, so it’s hard for fans to get invested and follow a top pick who might be a career minor leaguer. This is not to knock the players themselves at all who are share the same dream of making it to the Majors, it’s just how the system is set up. An addition wrinkle is that players can be drafted out of high school, but if they go to college, they must stay there for three years.

The most recent change to the Draft that might confuse the casual observer is the introduction of the bonus pool. Instead of the previous recommended slot system for each pick that was largely ignored by clubs, each team is given a total amount of money to spend on draft picks bonuses based numbers of picks and pick positions. Teams are free to dole out the pool money any way they want, which can lead to instances where the top player might not actually be the first player chosen, as teams look to save a bit for later picks.

While this preview has focused on the structure of the draft itself and its differences from its Big 4 counterparts, there is a large amount of talent available. Stanford’s Mark Appel is considered the best pitcher and could likely go #1 in a draft that has more college talent towards the top. Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray, Nevada’s Braden Shipley, Indiana State’s Sean Manaea and Arkansas’ Ryne Stanek are the other top college arms while Kohl Stewart, Trey Ball, Devin Williams and Kyle Serrano are the prep pitcher. San Diego’s Kris Bryant and North Carolin’s Colin Moran are the top college and overall bats with the edge going to Bryant because of his power potential. The other top college bats are a trio of outfielders in Mississippi State’s Hunter Renfroe, Stanford’s Austin Wilson and Fresno State’s Aaron Judge. The best bats from the high school ranks are OFs Austin Meadows and Clint FrazierĀ as well as 1B Dominic Smith and SS JP Crawford.

The MLB Draft has a long way to go before it can match the coverage and prestige of the Goliath NFL Draft, but it’s still an important part of the process and any baseball fan should at least take the time to peruse the results. Who knows one of those late round picks could end up turning into a superstar such as Nolan Ryan (12th round ’65), Mike Piazza (62nd ’88) and most recently, Albert Pujols (13th ’99).