The MLB Draft: Three days of pure excitement

Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The biggest crap shoot in all of sports gets underway on Monday, as Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft kicks off with the first of 50 riveting rounds.

Given the popularity of the NFL Draft, MLB has tried real hard in recent years to generate the same kind of buzz for its annual event. The festivities actually picked up some steam over the last couple of years with the overly- hyped No. 1 selections of flamethrower Stephen Strasburg and slugger Bryce Harper, but this year the level of excitement should once again go back to matching that of a Wednesday evening tilt at PNC Park.

See what I did there, I mentioned the Pirates. Why? Well they hold the top pick this year. Shockingly it is only the fourth time the team has been in this position, considering they haven't had a winning season since 1992. Of course, a big reason for their epic level of futility could be the two players they chose the last two times they were in this position: right-handers Kris Benson (1996) and Bryan Bullington (2002), both of whom never amounted to much, if anything, for Pittsburgh.

Hoping for better results this time around, the Pirates are reportedly leaning in the direction of another right-handed pitcher - UCLA hurler Gerrit Cole.

Cole was the runaway favorite to be chosen first early on in the process, and apparently still is, despite a ho-hum season for the Bruins that saw him go 6-7 with a 3.20 ERA in the regular season. He did strike out 108 batters in 107 innings, though.

The Pirates are reportedly leaning in the direction of UCLA hurler Gerrit Cole.
The general consensus is that of all the pitchers in this draft, Cole could be the closest to contributing at the major league level, both from a physical and a makeup standpoint.

So, reports have indicated that Cole will be the choice. I'd have gone a different route, perhaps his own teammate Trevor Bauer, who stole the show this weekend in opening round action of the NCAA Baseball Tournament by striking out 14 in a six-hit shutout, his ninth complete game of the season. The win on Saturday also followed up a loss by Cole on Friday.

But like I said, I am not in the Bucs scouting department.

Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon is widely considered to be the top prospect in this draft, but the Pirates appear to have been scared off by some sort of shoulder injury that limited his time this spring in the field. Not to mention the fact that they made third baseman Pedro Alvarez the second overall pick just three years ago.

Alvarez is not exactly Mike Schmidt with the glove. He easily could be moved across the diamond, giving the Pirates two legitimate power options at the corners. Let's be honest, given Pittsburgh's recent history, Alvarez will probably have already been dealt by the time Rendon is ready anyway.

Either way, Rendon won't have long to wait, as the Seattle Mariners at No. 2 will jump all over him if Pittsburgh passes, shoulder injury or no shoulder injury.

Other players to keep an eye out for on Monday include Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen, who some say is the best pitcher in this draft, Georgia Tech southpaw Jed Bradley, Oklahoma prep right-hander Dylan Bundy, as well as outfielder Bubba Starling, a Kansas high school star who was also one of the top college football quarterback recruits and has already committed to Nebraska to play both sports.

The beauty of the MLB Draft, though, is that Cole or any of the players named above are as likely to succeed as someone taken 20 rounds later.

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.

The best example of that is, of course, Mike Piazza, who 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, the godfather to one of the catcher's brothers. You'll see a lot of instances like that where a manager's son or relative gets taken just because of who he is.

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.

Case and point being Cole, who was the New York Yankees No. 1 pick in 2008, but chose to attend UCLA instead. You can't fault a kid for choosing to go to college, but perhaps teams should do a little more homework there.

A perfect example on Monday will be to see where Texas prep outfielder Josh Bell goes. Bell is a top-five talent, but comes from a very well educated family and is almost a lock to follow through on his commitment to the Longhorns. But, there will be a team that'll entice him anyway, essentially wasting a first-round pick this year. Some team may pick him knowing full well he won't sign, saving them money in the process.

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 Yankees and Boston Red Sox still have two of the best farm systems in all of baseball, despite well over a decade of dominance.

I won't start taking this event seriously until it becomes a worldwide draft. Make the Latin players available. If there are Japanese stars who want to come over, have them go through the process instead of the ridiculous posting system that eliminates all but about four teams from bidding on the real elite players.

You want to drum up some excitement MLB? How about making some draft picks available for trade. How fun would it be if the Pirates were selling their pick to a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, who have three first round picks and 10 of the first 60, or just restocking their system through trades rather than making a pick. Eventually I have a feeling we will be going down that route, anyway.

The one thing that MLB does right with this draft is the speed of it all, considering there are 50 rounds. The first round is a bit rough, given the TV stuff, but the next two days fly by as everything is handled rapid fire over conference call.

These will be the stars of the future, though. Whether its Cole, Rendon, Hultzen or Starling, early on, or Engle, Ramirez, Stephenson or Smith somewhere between rounds 30-50. It's anyone's guess.

That is the beauty of the MLB Draft.

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