Once again, the future has arrived, and baseball fans get to watch it play out in all its glory.
Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft, which has evolved into a three-day extravaganza packed with superstar potential, global intrigue and the undeniable emotional impact of life-changing moments on display, is upon us.
The First-Year Player Draft begins with the Draft preview show on MLB Network and MLB.com tonight at 6 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 Friday.
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.
As is the case every year, there's a lot to keep up to date on, especially for the first team picking, the Houston Astros. Houston has picked first in the last two Drafts, nabbing shortstop Carlos Correa in 2012 and starting pitcher Mark Appel last year.
This time around, the Astros claim to have narrowed their top selection to six choices. And while the young and improving club's general manager, Jeff Luhnow, has been known to pull a surprise or two in the past, one thing that won't come as a shock to anyone is the attitude going into such an important yearly event for a franchise.
"You need to hit on 1-1," Luhnow said. "It's critical, because you're making a big investment and it's also an opportunity to take the best player out there. It's one of those things that we expect that we're going to get a return on that pick."
This year, Luhnow is believed to be choosing from left-handers Brady Aiken of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego and Carlos Rodon of North Carolina State, right-hander Tyler Kolek of Shepherd High School in Texas, catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, shortstop Nick Gordon of Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla., and LSU right-hander Aaron Nola for the top pick.
He said he'll go for the one his team decides is the best, regardless of position.
"You really have to take the best player, and even in football where the players go directly to the NFL, you'll still find that tendency, because you're looking for upside and you're trying to get as much upside as possible," Luhnow said. "We're not smart enough to know exactly what our team configuration is going to look like five years from now, much less three years from now, so it wouldn't make sense for us to draft on need."
As for the six contenders for the No. 1 spot, Aiken has drawn comparisons to Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, and the more seasoned Rodon has faced good competition in college and for USA Baseball and has a serious plus pitch in his wipeout slider. Jackson is the elite hitter of the bunch, with a big power ceiling and versatility in that he can catch and play outfield.
Of the other three headliners, Kolek is the one hitting triple digits on radar guns. Gordon comes from a serious baseball family (his father is Flash, his brother is Dodgers second baseman Dee) and mans the premium position of shortstop. And Nola could be the closest of the pitchers to being Major League-ready.
So it remains to be seen what the Astros will do, and how that will impact the rest of the first round, but the rest of the teams will be eager to see what's left when it's their turn to be on the clock.
The Astros will be followed in the Top 10 by the Marlins, White Sox, Cubs, Twins, Mariners, Phillies, Rockies, Blue Jays and Mets.
Toronto, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Boston and St. Louis each have two picks in the first round, and the Royals and Indians each have a league-high four picks on the first night of the Draft.
The Draft consists of 40 rounds. Day 1 features the first round, Competitive Balance Round A, the second round and Competitive Balance Round B. The Draft will continue at 1:05 p.m. ET on Friday and Saturday. Day 2 covers rounds 3-10, and Day 3 features rounds 11-40.
Each team will be represented at the Draft by a former player or front-office member, and that group will include Hall of Famers and former All-Stars such as Andre Dawson, Ferguson Jenkins, Chris Carpenter, Ivan Rodriguez and Randy Jones.
These stars of seasons past will surely remember what it was like to learn of their selection, and they'll serve as a reminder for the current crop of draftees that dreams can happen when you put in the hard work, fight through adversity and earn your way up the pro ball ladder.
Seven of those players with Major League aspirations will be in attendance in Studio 42 during the broadcast, with Gordon joined by high school shortstops Michael Chavis (Sprayberry, Ga.) and Jacob Gatewood (Clovis, Calif.), prep outfielders Monte Harrison (Lee's Summit, Mo.) and Derek Hill (Elk Grove, Calif.), and high school pitchers Grant Holmes (Conway, S.C.) and Kodi Medeiros (Waiakea, Hawaii).
What they'll see, and what we'll all likely see, is that the 2014 Draft is very heavy on pitching.
"There could be eight or nine pitchers taken in the top 10," a scouting director with an American League team told MLB.com's Jim Callis. "How many can go in the top 15? Twelve? Thirteen? There are so many arms. This is a deeper pool of players than last year, especially with pitchers."
And if this Draft goes the way recent editions have gone, don't be shocked to see several of its players on the fast track to the big leagues … and making themselves known pretty quickly when they get there.
Tampa Bay ace David Price was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft and was on the mound when the Rays won the American League Championship Series in October 2008. Reds right-hander Mike Leake was selected No. 8 overall in 2009 and was in Cincinnati's starting rotation the next April. All in all, 11 players in the last 11 Drafts made their Major League debuts in the same year of their selection.
So while the next three days are all about the future, they're also about the present. Just ask the Astros.
"For us, we want to produce big league players," Luhnow said. "And we want to prepare these players to be successful in Houston."
It starts up again for the Astros and the 29 other Major League teams today.