Who's going where in Draft? We'll find out tonight
Small number of clear-cut top choices making teams work harder to sort out the talent
The time has come for all of Major League Baseball to turn from the present and look toward the future as the First-Year Player Draft begins tonight.
Baseball is the only major sport to hold its Draft during its regular season, giving fans the opportunity to see how their favorite teams are building for down the road at the same time they are checking what they are currently doing on the field.
The 2013 First-Year Player Draft will take place tonight through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network tonight at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And you can get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
A total of nine players -- an all-time high -- will be attending the Draft in person: Tim Anderson, Nick Ciuffo, Ian Clarkin, J.P. Crawford, Jon Denney, Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Billy McKinney and Dominic Smith.
As they did last year, when they took high school shortstop Carlos Correa, the Houston Astros hold the first overall selection and are on the clock. It's the third time a team has had back-to-back No. 1 picks, as the Tampa Rays took David Price and Tim Beckham in 2007 and 2008 and the Washington Nationals got Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in 2009 and 2010. But neither the Rays nor the Nats had a real opportunity to consider the same players in successive years.
Right-hander Mark Appel didn't go No. 1 last year, slipping to No. 8, when the Pirates rolled the dice and took him. But he opted to remain at Stanford and he's been more consistently dominant this year than he was as a junior -- the reason why he's No. 1 on the MLB.com Top 100 list.
In the final hours before the Draft, the Astros were still looking at a group of five potential candidates: Appel, Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray, college third basemen Kris Bryant (San Diego) and Colin Moran (North Carolina) and Georgia high school outfielder Clint Frazier. It didn't appear that Gray's positive test for Adderall, the ADHD medication, was keeping the Astros, or other teams, from strongly considering the hard-throwing right-hander. While it seemed unlikely, taking Frazier would mean the top pick was at the Draft two years running.
The Chicago Cubs, picking No. 2, have said they have four candidates for that pick, all of whom are in the group above: Appel, Gray, Bryant and Moran. Even with some uncertainty at the very top, there are still many who see a Gray-Appel 1-2 start to the Draft. The Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians round out the top five selections.
The Rockies have been tied to Bryant for a while, as have the Twins to Texas high school pitcher Kohl Stewart. Moran could end up being a good fit with Cleveland.
The Miami Marlins are up next at No. 6, the first of what will be four picks for the organization on the Draft's first night. They and the New York Yankees are the only two teams with so many selections through the first two rounds. The Yankees got their extra picks -- Nos. 32 and 33 -- due to the loss of Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano to free agency.
The Marlins received their added selections thanks to the newest wrinkle in the Draft: the Competitive Balance Rounds. Miami initially received the No. 6 pick in Competitive Balance Round A during a lottery held last July. While they traded that pick to the Tigers, they received the second pick of Round A, No. 35, from the Pirates in a deal involving first baseman Gaby Sanchez. They picked up the final pick in Competitive Balance Round B in the swap with the Tigers.
"We're looking at a lot of different ways to do it," Marlins vice president of scouting Stan Meek said. "We're doing what we can to utilize the money the best way we can.
"What Houston did [in 2012] worked for them. They worked it to the way they thought it worked to their advantage. We'll try to do the same. We'll try to use our money to the greatest extent. It's different based on how you see players. We're trying to see all avenues and that's created even more work for us."
One of the bigger challenges in trying to do that has been a lack of players separating themselves from the rest of the class, leaving many -- not just the Marlins at No. 6 -- wondering who exactly belongs at the top of their Draft board. Some have seen Appel, Gray and perhaps Bryant as the only players who have cemented themselves as impact-type talents. And if the Marlins are feeling challenged up there, imagine how teams picking lower down in the first round are feeling.
"You have to make sure you're comfortable with the guy at 6, but the first guy doesn't make your Draft," Meek explained about trying to juggle all the picks. "We've had to scout them all. It's kept us running pretty hard getting looks at everybody.
"We've had a lot of difference of opinion on players, too. It's been harder to find consensus. It's been a big challenge. This year, in my 12 years of doing it, it's been the toughest in terms of betting a consensus on the top guys. There are probably two or three guys that everyone would agree on in our group, then it splinters pretty good."
There are some agreed-upon strengths in the Draft, at least in terms of depth. There's a good number of left-handed pitchers and a surprisingly large number of high school catchers, with perhaps three prep backstops finding their way into the first round. The depth might make it a better Draft as it winds into the later rounds, even if it provides a stiffer challenge earlier, especially given the increase in Draft pool money allotted to sign players taken in the first 10 rounds.
"Eight percent was added to the pools, but I don't think eight percent has been added to the ability [in the class]," one scouting director joked. "In any Draft, there are always good big leaguers. It's our job to sift those guys out and try to make good decisions.
"The late risers in this Draft could make some big jumps because we're a little uncertain about what we've seen so far."