Monday sees the 2011 MLB First-year Player draft, the primary means by which home-grown talent is distributed to the major-league franchises. While it has a lower profile than most pro sports drafts, it is of vital importance in helping level the playing field between the haves and have-not in the game. It's of particular significance for the Diamondbacks this year, who have two of the first seven picks. We've already covered some of the potential names on Arizona's list, and ws we head towards the event, we'll be looking both back and forward at the D-backs draft. As a starter, here is a basic guide to the draft.
So, what is this draft thing anyway?
There has been some kind of draft in place since the twenties, but it reached its current form in 1965. There had been various attempts to prevent wealthier teams from simply vacuuming up all the best prospects previously, such as the Bonus Rule, which restricted what clubs could do with players who were paid more than a $4,000 signing bonus. This was largely ineffective, and easily circumvented, and at the 1964 Winter Meetings, clubs opted to institute a draft instead - over and above complaints from the likes of the Yankees [one Yankees executive infamously compared the draft to communism!]
The basic principal was the same then as now. Teams picked players in reverse order of their record the previous year. The side with the worst record got to pick first, then the second, and so on, until the best team has picked. Then, the second round starts, with the worst team leading off again. There used to be several separate drafts, for summer graduates, winter grads and amateur leagues, but since 1986, these have been amalgamated into one. It's easily the largest of any of the pro sports: last year, more than 1,500 players were picked, easily five times as big as the NFL or NHL drafts, and 25 times as many are picked in the NBA draft.
Why do the Diamondbacks have two high picks?
Arizona get to pick third because of their woeful 2010 record. Only Seattle (61-101) and Pittsburgh (57-105) were worse, so the Pirates have the #1 overall pick, and the Mariners the #2. However, a relatively new rule came into play for us in this year's event, stating that teams which are unable to sign their first-round pick, get a compensatory pick just after the same one the following year. The Diamondbacks couldn't come to terms with their #6 pick in 2010, Barrett Loux - in part because of concerns over his arm - so they get the pick after the #6 this year. This is why there are more than 30 picks in the first round.
Additionally, depending on the quality of the player concerned, teams who sign free agents can forfeit their first-round pick to the player's old team, or the losing side can get a bonus selection in a supplement round that takes place between the first and second. The Diamondbacks benefited as a result of this, because Adam LaRoche was signed by the Nationals, after he declined arbitration from Arizona. He wasn't good enough for us to get a pick from Washington, but we still get the 43rd pick, in the supplemental round. The big winners there, however, are the Rays, who have ended up with ten of the first 60 picks, though none higher than #24.
Does 2011 look like a good crop of players?
In a word, yes. In two: "Hell, yes." Want more? "The best group in years," according to Baseball America. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo said, "The general consensus is that the Class of 2011 is one of the strongest and deepest pools of amateur talent that has come around for some time." Keith Law's opinion was that this is "a class that is as loaded as any I can remember" That particularly appears to be the case with regard to pitchers, perhaps more so in the college arena than from high-school. However, the top talent is generally thought to be 3B Anthony Rendon or Rice - it'd be a major shock if he is still around when Arizona pick.
What are the Diamondbacks looking for?
Derrick Hall made it clear in a recent online chat. "Pitchers for sure. We believe you build championships around pitching and defense, and this draft is full of talented pitching, both at the college and high school levels. We are thin in the system at catcher, so we would like to find a few in the draft. Bob Melvin is looking at a few catchers for us this weekend, having played the position." GM Kevin Towers added, "I think when you're picking three and seven you need to take the best players on the board. I'm not opposed to going with high school kids. A lot of people say high school pitchers will take five years and that's too long, but some of these high school kids today move quicker."
Though Towers denied it, I suspect they do want players they will be able to sign. True, if they don't ink the #3, they get a compensation pick at #4 next year. But that class isn't likely to be as good, so a #4 next year will probably be less talented than this year's third pick. And the #7 pick is not eligible for anything, being already a compensation pick. Whoever they get there, they must sign. That said, it doesn't seem like money should be too much of a problem. The word is that we have a fair amount of cash floating about to spend. I'd be more than slightly-miffed if we skimp on signing the best available players, simply so we can pay for some half-season veteran presence.
Ok, I'm excited. What next?
There'll be a lot of coverage on the 'Pit over the next few days, as we build up to Monday. Fortunately, that's an off-day for the D-backs, so the decks have been cleared for us. This category includes all our draft coverage, and there'll be more coming with articles from IHSB and blue bulldog as we move closer to the day - that'll bring you up to speed on all the names you need to know. There'll also be some pieces looking back at the history of the draft? What kind of players get picked at #3 and #7? How have the Diamondbacks done with their first-round picks? And, of course, on Monday, expect full details as the future of the franchise is molded.