Hundreds of players to realize Draft dreams
Three-day First-Year Player Draft begins tonight at 7 ET
It's said that every kid who picks up a baseball dreams of one day playing in the big leagues.
Only a very select few fulfill that dream, but starting at 7 p.m. ET on Monday, hundreds of talented high school and college players will take their first big steps in that direction when they are selected in the First-Year Player Draft.
The first 50 picks -- representing the first and supplemental compensation rounds -- of the three-day event begins at that time, and fans can watch it all during live coverage on MLB.com and MLB Network, whose preview show begins at 6 p.m. MLB.com will then provide exclusive coverage of days 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player.
When Commissioner Bud Selig walks to the podium on Monday evening to announce the top pick, held by the Washington Nationals for the second straight year, it's expected that he will speak the name of Bryce Harper, the 17-year-old phenom who has been the face of this Draft for the past year, when he received national attention and left high school two years early to attend junior college.
It's long been believed that Harper is the best talent in this Draft class, and he has backed it up with his performance, most of it with a wood bat, at the College of Southern Nevada. While the Nationals had not confirmed their choice as of Sunday evening, it is seemingly clear that Harper will be their choice.
"If they didn't take him, I think it could be a nightmare," said College of Southern Nevada coach Tim Chambers. "In my opinion, and this is my opinion alone, with his age, he's possibly the greatest amateur player ever. At 17, a junior in high school, I can't imagine anybody being better."
Harper, of course, is not the only player in the Draft class and there are bound to be stars taken throughout the 50 rounds. There is a general consensus that the next two to go off the board will hail from the high school ranks: right-hander Jameson Taillon from The Woodlands in Texas and shortstop Manny Machado from Miami Brito in Florida.
After that, however, things remained somewhat unclear in terms of who would go where. There's bound to be a fair share of college pitchers going early, as is always the case, with lefties Chris Sale of Florida Gulf Coast and Drew Pomeranz of Ole Miss leading that group. Right-handers Deck McGuire of Georgia Tech, Brandon Workman of Texas, Asher Wojciechowski of The Citadel and Alex Wimmers of Ohio State are also in the first-round picture.
Last year's college pitchers have set the bar pretty high. No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg, taken out of San Diego State, will make his much-anticipated Major League debut for the Nationals on Tuesday after tearing through the Minors. He'll join Drew Storen -- last year's No. 10 overall pick -- on Washington's staff. The former Stanford closer has a 1.93 ERA in 10 relief outings since being called up on May 17.
The leader of the 2009 Draftees so far has been Mike Leake, the No. 8 pick who went straight to the big leagues and is 5-0 with a 2.22 ERA over his first 11 starts.
This year's class doesn't have quite the college pitching talent, at least in terms of guys separating themselves at the top. There are more pitchers to choose from at the high school level -- many consider that to be the deepest pool of talent -- but with that comes the risk of taking young arms.
"To overgeneralize, it's a younger Draft," a National League scouting director said. "The high school crop is giving more. But as much as we like the high schoolers, there won't be 20-25 taken in the first round. But it is the depth of the Draft."
After Taillon, high school pitchers like Karsten Whitson (Florida), Stetson Allie (Ohio), Dylan Covey (California) and Aaron Sanchez (California) are among the prepsters who could go in the first round.
As deep as the pitching may appear, the hitting pool is shallow. It's not that there aren't any good hitters in his class, but scouts have bemoaned the lack of impact bats, especially ones worth considering at the top of the Draft after Harper. Still, advanced college hitters like Zack Cox of Arkansas, Michael Choice of Texas-Arlington and Yasmani Grandal of Miami figure to go pretty early, as do high schoolers Josh Sale from Washington state and Justin O'Conner from Indiana.
Some teams will get more cracks at picking the best talent than others in the early rounds. The Los Angeles Angels have three picks in the first round proper and 10 total through the first five rounds. The strength of this Draft's high-school pitching pools may be to their advantage, as the Angels are an organization that doesn't normally shy away from the younger set.
The Toronto Blue Jays trump the Angels by one, with 11 picks in the first five rounds. Three of those extra picks are because of unsigned 2009 selections, including a pair of Canadian natives, second-round selection Jake Eliopoulos and supplemental first-rounder James Paxton. Paxton headed to independent-league ball and could be re-drafted in the first couple of rounds.
The Jays, of course, aren't the only ones who will be looking to recoup for losses from last year's Draft. The Texas Rangers have the 15th pick -- technically 14B -- because they didn't sign their top pick last year, Matt Purke, who's now pitching at Texas Christian University and will be a Draft-eligible sophomore next year. The Tampa Bay Rays get a do-over of sorts with pick No. 31 after not coming to terms with LeVon Washington, who's back in the pool after going to Chipola Junior College. The Rangers and Rays will likely be sure to select signable talent as they would not receive compensation again if the players they take in those slots go unsigned.
It will likely start with Harper at No. 1 on Monday, just after 7 p.m. ET, and end roughly 1,500 picks later on Wednesday. Who will be the lucky few to make their dreams come true and reach the big leagues? Only time will tell.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.