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Bring on the MLB Draft

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Major League Baseball will get its annual crapshoot underway on Tuesday, as the futility of the Washington Nationals will finally be rewarded with the selection of right-handed phenom Stephen Strasburg as the first overall pick.

Washington has publicly stated that the San Diego State superstar is their guy. In fact, Strasburg was more than likely their guy since last summer when the Nationals were stumbling to the finish line of a 102-loss season, securing them the top overall pick for the first time in franchise history.

And who can blame them?

Arguably the best pitching prospect ever, Strasburg's exploits have become legendary, and despite rumors that he will be asking for a signing bonus upwards of $50 million, there is no way the Nats can pass up a pitcher who has a fastball that has been clocked in the low 100's and an even better curve.

If Strasburg is not the best prospect ever in the draft era, he has certainly been the most-hyped. Following a summer that saw him pitch in the Olympics, Strasburg was tremendous for San Diego State this past spring, going 13-1 for the Aztecs while leading the nation in strikeouts (195) and ranking second in ERA (1.32) and hits allowed per nine innings (5.37).

Among other awards and honors, Strasburg was Collegiate Baseball newspaper's National Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and was just recently named a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award given to the nation's premier amateur baseball player.

A lot of people are clamoring for Strasburg to go right to the majors, but I suspect he will get a few minor league assignments before he heads to D.C. Make no mistake, though, he will be there this season.

Now, of course, there is a downside.

Strasburg is represented by super agent Scott Boras, who has already guaranteed that Strasburg will receive the highest contract and bonus ever handed out to a draftee. Also, threats of having Strasburg pitch in Japan for a year have been thrown out there, should his demands not be met.

Washington, so far, has not been scared off. I suspect they will sign him to a bonus somewhere in $25-30 million range - not bad for someone who has never thrown a professional inning.

Keep in mind that the Nationals failed to sign their first-round pick from a year ago, right-hander Aaron Crow, who was also represented by Boras. The two sides were reportedly $500,000 apart, couldn't get it done, and Crow is back in the draft this year after a stint on the independent circuit.

Crow will go early, but should he fall, don't be surprised to see the Nats take him with the 10th pick, a selection they received as compensation for not agreeing to terms with him last year.

As usual, pitching will dominate the first round, with prep stars such as lefty Tyler Matzek and righty Jacob Turner, as well as collegiate arms like Vanderbilt's Mike Minor, Missouri's Kyle Gibson and Kennesaw State's right- handed duo of Kyle Heckathorn and Chad Jenkins all expected to be taken early on.

North Carolina first baseman Dustin Ackley is the best position player in the draft and should be picked no later than third. Also, high school outfielder Donovan Tate should go early, but could be another player who drops due to his association with Boras.

This year's draft will take place over three days, and for the first time the first round will be televised in prime time on the phenomenal MLB Network.

The first day will consist of the first 111 picks, including Round One, Compensation Round A, Round Two, Round Three and Compensation Round B. There will be four minutes between first-round picks and one minute between all other selections.

On Wednesday, June 10th, the Draft will resume in the fourth round at 12:00 p.m. (EDT) and will be tentatively scheduled to go through the 30th round. The Draft will conclude on Thursday, June 11th, which is set to cover the 31st-50th rounds, beginning at 11:30 a.m. (EDT).

The one thing I used to like about the draft was the swiftness of it all and, sadly, that is gone. There are 50 rounds, but they would bang out a round in 10 minutes or so over a conference call.

I know MLB is trying to drum up some interest, but there still aren't many people who care. This year might be a little different because the average sports fan has heard of Stephen Strasburg, but ask them who is picking second, or better yet who will be taken second, and you might be there awhile.

The Seattle Mariners are picking second, by the way, and I am guessing they will select Ackley.

I have never been a big fan of the draft. I have warmed up to it over the years, but it still seems like a big waste of time. A player taken in the 25th round has just as good a chance as 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. My point is that you just don't see the success rate in later rounds in baseball that you do in other sports. It's not even close.

This whole draft, though, is about Strasburg. Top overall picks in the past have been hit-or-miss. For every Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe Mauer, there has been a Ben McDonald, Brien Taylor and Bryan Bullington.

Is Strasburg the second coming of Tom Seaver? Probably not. History tells us that he is probably more like the second coming of Gil Meche - a solid starter at the major-league level. Given their storied past, though, I am sure most Nationals fans would sign up for that right now.

Plus, even if Strasburg fails, there is a chance that their 17th round pick will become an All- Star.

He won't be making Strasburg money, though, that is for sure.

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

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