So, after all the hype, this is what it comes down to. A bunch of pudgy dudes will meet in a room on the stages of the MLB Network and tonight we will have the picks for the first round and first supplemental round of the Rule 4 draft.
The Orioles have the third overall pick, and no other picks today. Indeed, the Orioles are, along with the Mets, the only team to lose a pick without adding one. Indeed, one of the things that will make this draft tough for the Orioles is that they have fewer picks than any other AL East team, particularly in the top of the draft. In the first three rounds, we have two picks, the Yankees have three, the Red Sox have five, the Rays have six and the Blue Jays have a whopping nine. The Rays and Jays have so many picks in part because they had such disastrous 2009 drafts with multiple unsigned picks, but both teams are in a position to add a lot of premium talent.
The advantage of the O's is that their first pick is so high. With the third overall pick, the O's are positioned to take one of Jameson Taillon or Manny Machado, the best prep pitcher and best prep bat respectively. Most evaluators believe that the O's will take whichever one of Taillon or Machado the Pirates don't take at #2. Most people believed the Pirates were going to select Machado until a couple of days ago; it now appears the Pirates are leaning Taillon, but it is hard to say, and not worth too much worry since we'll know the truth soon enough.
So, since the Orioles are going to make their only pick tonight early, and it is unlikely to be a big surprise, what is there to watch for tonight?
#1 - How does the prep pitching shake out?
The strength of this draft class is prep pitching, particularly prep righthanders. With such a deep group of prep pitchers, and not a lot of depth anywhere else, the odds are decent that some premium prep arms will fall, possibly even to the third round. Early bellwethers will be Karsten Whitson and Dylan Covey; if the two of them fall far in the first, odds are good that some arms like Aaron Sanchez, Tyrell Jenkins, Mike Foltynewicz, DeAndre Smelter and others will still be around when we get to the third round.
#2 - What happens to the hard signs?
Like every draft class, this one has some players whose signability is very questionable. Players like Kaleb Cowart and Zach Cox are rumored to be falling due to signing demands already. Others may not be signable at all. In particular, two players are at risk of falling due to being utterly unsignable - prep righty Zach Lee, who is committed to LSU to quarterback, and prep outfielder Austin Wilson, who is a Stanford commit and who no one knows what to expect because he does not have an agent as his adviser. I don't really expect the O's to draft one of these guys even if they do fall to us at 3:3, but it would be an exciting opportunity, particularly Cowart, who has perhaps the best power potential of anyone in the class besides Harper.
#3 - Do the Rays and Jays have their houses back in order?
The 2009 draft, as I mentioned before, was a disaster for both clubs, with multiple high picks going unsigned. Now, with their compensation picks unprotected and large numbers of top picks, the strategy of both clubs should be very interesting. The Rays, as we know, are a team on a budget. The Jays, on the other hand, have been spending on amateurs like crazy since the Anthopolous regime began.
We pretty much know, at this point, what we'll see from the Yankees in the draft, but this is a plot line to follow. If the Rays and Jays continue to have the kind of draft problems that plagued them last year, that will be great news. If instead they have drafts that make excellent use of multiple picks, the barriers we have to surmount to get out of the AL East cellar will be that much higher.
#4 - What will we learn about new Red Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye?
It has been lost in a lot of other news so far this season, but when Jed Hoyer became GM of the Padres, he took longtime Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod with him. McLeod has had a lot of success over the years despite generally poor draft position, and in addition to shaking up things at the top, the Red Sox have changed the majority of the cross-checkers, including grabbing Southern California scout Tom Battista from the Braves. Sawdaye was assistant scouting director for the Red Sox for the last five years, so it is probable that the Red Sox will draft similar to their recent pattern. But with so much change in the scouting department, the loss of multiple prospects in the Victor Martinez trade and with major injuries to top Red Sox prospects Ryan Westmoreland and Junichi Tazawa, the first draft by Sawdaye will be closely scrutinized.
It should be an exciting night! I'll be around doing live commentary, so I hope that some of you will be here with me!