The starfish-shaped conference-call module sat in the middle of the large oval table in a conference room at Major League Baseball's Manhattan headquarters, and the immediate future of the sport spilled through its speakers. It was early on the morning of June 7, 2005, and the dispersed representatives of MLB teams alternately voiced their clubs' selections in the opening round of the First-Year Player Draft. "With the first choice in the 2005 Draft, the Arizona Diamondbacks select Justin Upton, shortstop, Great Bridge High School, Chesapeake, Va."
"The Kansas City Royals select Alex Gordon, third baseman, the University of Nebraska. ..." "The Seattle Mariners select Jeff Clement, catcher. ..."
"The Washington Nationals pick Ryan Zimmerman ...""The Brewers choose Ryan Braun. ..." With those five picks within an hour, one of baseball's most seminal mornings was under way. After that opening quintet, the remainder of the first round lost some steam, but the startling short-term outcome is that the top five, eight of the top 10 and altogether 16 first-round choices appeared in the Majors within 27 months of their selections. Of course, they have done much more than merely make the scene. In the short version, they include a National League Rookie of the Year (Braun), a franchise player (Zimmerman) and 2007 World Series rivals (Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki and Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury). So just subtitle the 2005 Draft "Sudden Impact," and keep it in mind as the countdown progresses to the June 5, 2008 First-Year Player Draft. Deferred satisfaction? Not necessarily. But neither is the payoff from the 2005 Draft routine, at whatever pace. Overall No. 1 choices, the results of months of analysis and brainstorming, are slam-dunks; allowing for development time, the game hasn't muffed one since 1991 and the Yankees' pick of prep pitcher Brien Taylor. But five out of five, within a presidential term? Unheard of. In fact, from all the other Drafts since 1998, there has been at least one top-five pick who didn't make the Majors at all, not even for a September cameo. The first 2005 Draftee to arrive was pitcher Joey Devine (No. 27), who joined the Braves' bullpen on Aug. 20, fulfilling Atlanta scouting director Roy Clark's prophecy when he had been drafted 10 short weeks earlier: "He's a very advanced relief pitcher who we feel can advance quickly and successfully." Next came Zimmerman, who on Sept. 1, 2005 fulfilled the destiny implied by his decision to sign within minutes of the Draft. "I didn't want to be one of those guys that sits out the whole summer," Zimmerman had said, valuing actual hardball over negotiating hardball. "I don't know how I could deal without a summer of baseball." Washington general manager Jim Bowden's Draft-day proclamation: "This will be a player on the fast track to the Major Leagues." Then, a couple of weeks later, came pitcher Craig Hansen (No. 26), who found himself in Boston's bullpen only 13 Minor League appearances removed from St. John's University. Three "graduates" within weeks of the Draft: Clearly, something special was afoot. In turn, the Mets' Mike Pelfrey (July 8), the Twins' Matt Garza (Aug. 11) and Tulowitzki (Aug. 30) arrived in 2006. And the rush was on last year for the rest: Gordon, Travis Buck (No. 36 by Oakland), Cameron Maybin (No. 10 by Detroit), Braun, Lance Broadway (No. 15 by the White Sox), Garrett Olson (No. 48 by Baltimore), Clement, Ellsbury, Upton and Clay Buchholz (No. 42 by Boston) formed a long procession into The Show. None brought the house down as did Braun -- who did not take his first big league cut until May 25, yet finished his rookie season with 34 homers, along with 97 RBIs and a .324 average. Braun had arrived pumped: "I'm extremely confident in my ability. As long as I continue to go out there and work hard on a daily basis, then I should continue to be successful." And he has raked ever since, campaigning for that future honor, being the answer to the question: "Who was the best player selected in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft?" That should be a lively debate. Incidentally, the Boston Red Sox deserve special commendation for the successful way they unraveled the mysteries lurking beneath the blue-chip layer of the Draft. This was the Draft following the end of the Red Sox's 86-year World Series championship drought, so their first pick did not come until No. 23 (compensation from the Angels for signing away free-agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera). Yet Boston led the way with three choices (including supplemental picks) in that first round who have already appeared in the bigs: Ellsbury, Hansen and Buchholz. Boston clearly made the most of other compensation picks acquired for also letting free agents Derek Lowe (Dodgers) and Pedro Martinez (Mets) sign elsewhere. "It was the right thing to do," Red Sox GM Theo Epstein said in the aftermath of the '05 Draft. "Because of their age, and also to get those Draft picks and rebuild our system. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we feel like our [picks] all have a chance of being big league players. And if two or three of those guys reach their ceiling, it has a chance to be a franchise-changing Draft." Franchise-changing? Check. History-making? Check. All in a Draft day's work.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.