Scrutiny of the Draft also has increased dramatically, both internally and externally. Teams realize that drafting well is the most cost-efficient way to build a team, compared to the soaring costs of big league free agents and the deep projection required on young international talent. It's all but impossible for clubs to sustain success at the Major League level without getting production from the Draft.
These days, teams don't have to wait as long for a return on their investments. Players are going from the Draft to the big leagues as fast as ever, and clubs are considering ETAs when they weigh their selections.
"Most clubs weigh the time line of a player reaching the Major Leagues to some degree in their Draft decisions," said Jason McLeod, Cubs senior vice president for scouting and player development. "From afar, there seem to be certain teams who simply minimize their risk by taking more polished players who usually come from college. And there are other teams who will take on more risk and shoot for the upside or impact tools, which generally tend to come from the high school class.
"This is the risk/reward we all deal with in the Draft, and why we spend so much time poring over all of the information we ask our scouts to generate."
It's becoming increasingly common for Draft picks to make an almost immediate impact on pennant races. The most obvious example is David Price, who went from the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 by Tampa Bay to saving the American League Championship Series clincher the following October.
Mike Leake signed late as the No. 8 overall choice in 2009, then began his pro career as a member of the Reds' big league rotation the following April. He won eight games for the National League Central champs. Chris Sale, the White Sox 2010 first-rounder, and Paco Rodriguez, the Dodgers' 2012 second-rounder, pitched only briefly in the Minors before working out of the bullpen for big league clubs that finished in second place.
Sale and Rodriguez are two of the 11 players from the last 11 Drafts to make their Major League debuts in the same year in which they were selected. The others are: Ryan Wagner, Chad Cordero and Rickie Weeks (2003); Joey Devine, Ryan Zimmerman and Craig Hansen (2005); Andrew Miller (2006); Ross Detwiler (2007); and Conor Gillaspie (2008). In the previous 11 Drafts from 1992-2002, only five picks advanced to the big leagues that quickly: Brian Anderson and Jeff Granger (both 1993); Ariel Prieto (1995), J.D. Drew (1998) and Xavier Nady (2000).
Looking at the three fastest players to the Majors from each of those Drafts also reinforces the notion that recent picks are progressing more rapidly. From 2003-13, the 11 aforementioned players debuted in their Draft year, 19 others reached the big leagues the following season and none had to wait two years (though 2013 has yet to produce a Major Leaguer). By contrast, from 1992-2002 there were five debuts in Draft years, 21 the next season and seven two years after the Draft.
This year's Draft features several players who could reach the big leagues in a hurry, including college starters Aaron Nola (Louisiana State) and Carlos Rodon (North Carolina State) and college relievers Nick Burdi (Louisville), Nick Howard (Virginia) and Jacob Lindgren (Mississippi State). Left-hander Brady Aiken, the top-rated prospect, should advance faster than most high schoolers.
The 2014 Draft will take place on June 5-7, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on June 6.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.