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Gearing up for the MLB Draft

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The biggest crapshoot in all of sports will get underway on Thursday, as Major League Baseball presents its First-Year Player Draft. And, for the second straight year, MLB will try to capitalize on the incredible popularity of the NFL Draft by televising its event.

However, there is a huge, glaring difference. People actually care about the NFL Draft.

Find me one casual baseball fan who can tell you who Pedro Alvarez, Tim Beckham or Buster Posey are. It's not going to happen. Unlike in the NFL, where you have seen many of the drafted players on a weekly basis in college, and for the most part witness their contributions to a pro team immediately, you won't see the virtually unknown MLB draftees for a few years, if at all.

I'd be surprised if someone could even tell me who was picking first.

It's Tampa Bay, by the way, which will be making the first overall pick for the second straight year and the fourth time in its not-so-illustrious history. Only the New York Mets and San Diego Padres, with five No. 1 overall picks all-time - have held the dubious distinction more than the Rays.

This also marks the first time in the history of the draft, which began in 1965, that the same club has had the top overall pick in consecutive years. Until the most recent basic agreement took effect in 2005, the top pick alternated annually between the leagues.

This could be the last time for a while that the Rays are in this position, as they currently sit atop the AL East standings.

Thanks to ESPN2 televising the affair, the first two rounds will last a good couple of hours, rather than the 15 minutes it used to take when the draft was held via conference call. The final 47 rounds or so are still held the old- fashioned way.

Televised or not, the draft is what it is. A player taken in the 20th round has just as good a chance of making it as a player in the first round.

Don't get me wrong, a good number of first-round picks pan out, and obviously more picks in the first 10 rounds make it than in the second 10 rounds. But, the amount of late-round success present in baseball simply does not translate to other sports, and the comparison isn't even close.

Mike Piazza, for instance, was a 62nd-round selection and the last player chosen in the 1988 draft, supposedly as a favor to Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who is godfather to one of the catcher's brothers.

Can you imagine Mr. Irrelevant amounting to anything substantial in the NFL? The St. Louis Rams selected Idaho linebacker David Vobora with the last pick in this past April's NFL Draft. What are the chances of him putting up a Hall of Fame career like Piazza? Heck what are the chances of him even making the team? No offense to Mr. Vobora, but I think the Arena Football League is in his future.

Not to mention that a good portion of the players selected will never even don the team's jersey that takes them. Many either go to college, stay in college or don't reach an agreement with the team, putting them back in the draft for another year.

The whole process is flawed. Some players drop just because teams won't be able to reach their salary demands, and you know who swoops right in and grabs those players. It is no coincidence that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have two of the best farm systems in all of baseball, despite over a decade of dominance.

Now, of course, those teams also have great baseball people making decisions, but the money helps a lot.

Case in point: Alvarez seems to be the consensus best player in the draft, but the Tampa Bay Rays are likely to pass due to his association with super-agent Scott Boras, who has already stated that he will be seeking a $7 million signing bonus - nearly $1 1/2 million more than Price received last year - as well as a big league contract.

So if Alvarez is not the guy for the Rays, then they will likely take the high school shortstop Beckham, who specifically opted against signing with Boras due to the agent's reputation around the league.

Considered the top prep prospect in this year's class, Beckham is a five-tool talent whose athleticism and elite skill set has evoked comparisons to ex- Cincinnati great Barry Larkin.

Will he be that good? Who knows? But for those fans in Tampa who may expect more out of the top overall pick in the draft, have no fear, because your 15th-round pick could turn out to be an All-Star instead.

That my friends, is the MLB Draft in a nutshell.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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