Draft is game's big day, growing bigger
Annual event adds television to online coverage
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft was practically covert until MLB.com and the Internet age transformed it into an annual happening that sets traffic records each year.
One look inside the event's new epicenter here at The Milk House facility inside Disney's Wide World of Sports complex, and you can see why it says "Where Dreams Come True" on that main Disney entry sign for millions of tourists.
The largest Draft in sports by player volume is about to get a whole lot bigger, another stunning reminder of how the national pastime's popularity has surged even higher in these days of record-breaking attendance and unprecedented pennant-race participation. The Draft starts at 2 p.m. ET today, and ESPN2 will air today's first round. MLB.com will simulcast ESPN2's coverage, part of its live mulitimedia coverage of the entire draft from first pick to last.
It is still all about the next wave of phenomenally gifted and intensely scouted talent, eager for the chance at a career and perhaps even stardom. But it is hard to think of another aspect of Major League Baseball that has been so transformed in recent years. Television is a new twist to these proceedings, as is the stage and the delegate tables that will be occupied by representatives who are in consultation with their respective MLB clubs. It will be a scene like never before in baseball -- certainly like nothing ESPN's Peter Gammons can recall.
"I'm just glad it promotes the sport," Gammons said after a Wednesday night rehearsal in The Milk House with fellow Draft commentators Karl Ravech and Steve Phillips. "There were years when the clubs would announce their first-round picks, then not tell you for a week and a half who was taken in the other rounds.
"It just shows that baseball really got what they never got before, which is to promote young talent. David Stern did that with the NBA. Bud Selig is doing that now, with guys like (Jose) Reyes and (David) Wright. They said, 'Wait a minute, we should be selling our young players, too.' Throw a guy like (Grady) Sizemore in there, too. Today's group of players under 27 is the best of any in that age group in the last 35 years. Without a doubt. Now young talent is really being showcased."
It is introduced well ahead of time with the Draft, and one of the obvious differences between MLB's Draft and that of other sports is that the selected players do not typically make an immediate impact upon the top-level professional team. If that was once an argument against making this a televised event, then that is no longer a concern. The spectacular popularity of this Draft on MLB.com has been strong evidence. Countless family members and friends again will be constantly clicking the MLB.com Draft Tracker to see if that certain prospect has been taken yet.
ESPN2 will televise, and MLB.com will simulcast, each club's first-round choice, with a maximum of five minutes allotted between selections. Each Major League organization is sending representatives to make the selection official on the broadcast, giving the word to "runners" at the scene. Hall of Famers Robin Roberts (Phillies), Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers) and Dave Winfield (Padres) are among the big names who will be here to do those honors.
Top draft candidates expected to be in attendance include third baseman Josh Vitters, right-hander Phillippe Aumont and left-hander Ross Detwiler. A special row of seats is awaiting them, backdropped in ceremonial bunting -- again, a completely new Draft sight.
The ESPN2 coverage will be just the beginning of a two-day splurge for Draft fans, and MLB.com will cover every pick along the way. There will be live multimedia coverage on both days -- here at Disney and at MLB.com's New York studios -- on BaseballChannel.TV. With reporting on all 30 teams, plus national stories and analysis, MLB.com continues to provide comprehensive content for all Draft needs.
MLB.com solo coverage takes over once ESPN2's ends. At 6:15 p.m., BaseballChannel.TV will have every pick of rounds No. 2-5 and beyond if Major League Baseball goes past five rounds on the first day. No round will begin past 8:30 p.m. ET, and BaseballChannel.TV's coverage will end with the conclusion of the first day. Casey Stern will host the action with analysts Jonathan Mayo from MLB.com and David Rawnsley from Perfect Game USA. As always, every pick of every round can be heard live exclusively on MLB.com.
Day 2 coverage starts up at 11:30 a.m. from New York. Mayo and Perfect Game USA's Allan Simpson will provide regular updates throughout the day during BaseballChannel.TV's regular programming. In addition, Mayo, Simpson and Seth Everett will do a one-hour show from 2-3 p.m. At 6 p.m., Vinny Micucci will host a one-hour show, again with Mayo and Simpson providing in-depth analysis.
While waiting for the picks to happen, do your homework and check out the 2007 Draft section. From a breakdown of Draft prospects by position to a first-person journal from the presumed No. 1 pick to a number of features on first-round possibles to previews on all 30 teams' Draft philosophies, there's everything you'll need to be ready for when the first pick is announced.
It is a far cry from the old days, which weren't that long ago. There was a time when you had to pick up a Baseball America much later to find out who was drafted after the first round. And you might even have heard in 1981 about a 12th-round pick that the Mets used on a Texan pitcher named Roger Clemens.
"When I got drafted that year by the Mets, there was a blackout," Phillips, the former Mets general manager, said of the old Draft conference call. "That year, they took me in the fifth round. Clemens was taken by the Mets in the 12th round, so that was my claim to fame. Mets fans still hold that against me. They were only $10,000 apart on Clemens, too, so they could have just taken him and not me."
Clemens stayed at the University of Texas, and two years later was drafted by Boston with the 19th pick in the first round. It was that aversion to college recruiters that was a large reason the baseball's Draft always was held so close to the vest. It was in baseball's interest to draft appealing high school players and sign them, and it was in the interest of universities to sign many of those same players to letters-of-intent.
"Early on, in the '80s it was because they didn't want universities to compete with us," Phillips said. "It's clearly evolved now. With the new technology, everyone knows who is selected with each pick throughout the whole Draft. It's different than NFL or NBA, because these guys are generally not household names like players who you just saw in the bowl season. But it helps educate fans, showing them more about the decision-making, the philosophy of each club. Each team spends about $15 million on scouting. Other sports don't have to, and they have fewer rounds. This is serious.
"It'll be great. It'll be educational and entertaining, and a steppingstone to more coverage, to where people may also want to watch more college baseball. It's an investment in your organization and your favorite team, as a fan."
Commissioner Selig will open the inaugural stage-show Draft, and then is scheduled to give way to Jimmie Lee Solomon. The compensation round should be roughly between 5 to 5:45, on ESPN2 and MLB.com, with 90 seconds between picks and Solomon at the podium. The second to fifth rounds should be roughly between 6:15 to 8:30 on MLB.com, with 60 seconds between picks, likely with Roy Krasik at the podium.
"Major League Baseball is delighted that ESPN2 will provide live coverage of our Draft," Selig said in anticipation of the expansion of this event. "I am glad that this agreement will give fans access to see this critical function of an organization's development. This is an idea whose time has come."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.