Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft starts at 7 p.m. ET on Monday, presented live by MLB Network and MLB.com.
Those marquee players are just some of those chosen in the first round during the past decade, and now the stage is set -- literally -- as prospects, families and fans everywhere baseball is played turn their focus to the Commissioner's podium.
The annual multimedia extravaganza arrives again, delivering the names of tomorrow's stars today. The Nationals are on the clock with the top overall selection again this year, and they are expected to use it on catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper. This year, the drama is under a bigger umbrella, because on Tuesday night, the second day of the Draft, the overall No. 1 selection by the Nationals in 2009, Stephen Strasburg, makes his Major League debut on the same Network, with Bob Costas in the play-by-play booth.
What a time for the Nats. What a time for all those scouted players who have nurtured dreams since childhood. All systems are go at MLB Network's Studio 42 and at MLB.com's Draft Central, where the first pick will be read by Commissioner Bud Selig. The first round again will be televised by the Network, and one of many additions to the presentation this time is that it also will carry Compensation Round A -- a TV first for the event.
Another big change coming to the Draft coverage is a returning figure in a new role: Peter Gammons. He was hired as an MLB Network analyst and MLB.com columnist last offseason, so this will be his first Draft in the Network studio. When the event was at Disney World in 2007-08, Gammons was an off-stage analyst for ESPN.
"That's huge," said John Entz, senior vice president of production at MLB Network. "Peter, obviously he's been around the game forever, but he really gets into this event. He showed a ton of attention to it. It's something he enjoyed doing. It's going to be a big change for us, and we're very excited to have him on our coverage."
In Gammons' latest MLB.com column previewing the Draft, he writes: "Harper is the story of Monday's Draft. He is the age of a high school junior and could break Teixeira's position-player signing bonus record of $9.5 million. He will probably end up in the outfield, where one GM said, 'I have him penciled in for 500 home runs,' and may give the Nationals two straight Drafts with franchise players. Ironically, the Draft will be going on the same day Stephen Strasburg makes his Major League debut."
Hall of Famer Al Kaline was among the dignitaries who sat at the Tigers' Draft-room table the last three years, and he said showcasing this event is making a big difference for this generation of fans and players.
"In baseball, the players in high school and college aren't publicized like basketball and football," said Kaline, who signed with Detroit as a bonus baby in 1953, long before the Draft's inception. "You didn't think there would be a media for something like this back when I played. It's a natural with today's technology. It's kind of exciting for the kids. I never visualized anything like this."
Commissioner Bud Selig will start it all off by reading the identity of the Nationals' top pick for the second year in a row. After last year's first round, he said, "Years ago, you didn't announce [picks] until days later. We can do even more to market this event. I know it's great for BAM [MLB Advanced Media] and it's a great day for the Network. I'm glad people can see what we have here."
The Draft already was an attraction always sure to drive the highest traffic of the year on MLB.com, and the addition of the live Network feed and the influence of social media has taken it to another level. Consider what the first round will be like. On a single computer screen, fans have the live Network studio feed; the MLB.com DraftTracker, listing every selection in order with a link to scouting reports; and a Twitter feed that includes a tab for "Everyone" and for "Insiders." Include the #mlbdraft hashtag in your tweets to be included in the former, and look for special access from official club accounts for the latter.
One by one, individual clubs have been stepping up over recent days to announce that they are on board for the behind-the-scenes tweets. Last year, for example, the @OaklandAs account was tweeting updates from their war room to show fans what the A's organization was thinking throughout the first round. This is a significant change -- and certainly light years from the old days of a Draft, when clubs just had a conference call with the MLB headquarters.
There will be increased access to the clubs' war rooms this year, as fans will have inside-access to 22 clubs as they make decisions that will mold their teams for years to come.
In addition, you can expect to see more on-camera involvement featuring the team representatives who sit at the club's tables at Studio 42. It will again be a collection of well-known personalities, including four Hall of Famers, each of them connected by phone to his individual club.
Prior to the start of the Draft, MLB Network will air a preview show, also simulcast on MLB.com, with Greg Amsinger, Harold Reynolds, John Hart, Gammons, MLB.com senior writer Jonathan Mayo and Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis, at 6 p.m. ET.
Continuing coverage at the start of Day 2, MLB.com will deliver exclusive live programming of the final two days on MLB.com/Live, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and a searchable database of over 1,500 Draft-eligible players, supplemented by statistics, scouting reports and video highlights.
On the eve of the big event, the Network studios were putting on the finishing touches, and the Nationals were preparing for their Next Big Thing. Harper is generally considered a lock, but General Manager Mike Rizzo was playing it close to the vest and said on Sunday morning that the club had not yet informed the player it intends to select.
"We'll keep it under wraps," he said. "It's not the biggest secret in the world. Until we make the pick, things change often up to the Draft time."
In addition to Harper, other players expected to be high picks are James Taillon, a right-handed pitcher from The Woodlands High School near Houston (Kyle Drabek's alma mater); Drew Pomeranz, a southpaw from University of Mississippi; and Manny Machado, a shortstop from Miami Brito High.
The selection order is determined by the reverse order of finish at the close of the previous season. Compensation picks have been assigned to clubs whose Type A or Type B free agents signed with other clubs and/or went to clubs that did not sign a player who was chosen in the first three rounds of the 2009 Draft.
The Angels have the most first-round selections, with three (18th, 29th and 30th overall), and possess five of the first 40 picks overall. The Astros (eighth and 19th), the Rangers (15th and 22nd) and the Rays (17th and 31st) also hold multiple first-round choices.
The Draft will have 50 rounds and will conclude after all 30 teams have passed on a selection or after the final selection of the 50th round, whichever comes first.