As the start of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft rapidly approaches, there appears to be more questions than answers facing the 30 teams hoping to improve their futures over the course of the three-day event.
One question everyone is pondering in every Draft room is an annual query: Who is going where?
It's often hard to ascertain what each team is going to do when it's time to make their first selection, but this year it seems more difficult than most. That starts at the top of the Draft, where it's still unknown who the Houston Astros will take No. 1 overall.
While the Astros officially put the candidate count at five, many in the industry felt it was down to two possibilities Sunday: Stanford University right-hander Mark Appel or toolsy Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton. ESPN's Jim Bowden, citing sources, said the Astros had settled on Appel with the first pick.
Buxton and Appel were ranked first and second, respectively, in MLB.com's Top 100 Draft rankings, a list based on talent, not their projected place in the Draft.
"There is no unanimous or consensus guy," one scouting director said. "Buxton is probably the best position player prospect, but he is a high school guy, which makes for risk. Last year was unclear because there were six or seven guys who were worthy. This year is unclear because there are no true 1-1 caliber talents."
There does seem to be a general consensus of the names, if not the order, of the other likely top 10 selections. Joining Appel and Buxton on that list are high schoolers Carlos Correa, Albert Almora, Max Fried and Courtney Hawkins. The college set being discussed at the top of the round are Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, Mike Zunino and Andrew Heaney, with certain teams discussing Deven Marrero and Chris Stratton as well.
Correa, Hawkins and Heaney will all be at the MLB Network studios Monday, attending the Draft in person. They will be joined by Gavin Cecchini, a high school shortstop expected by many to go in the first half of the first round, and high school catcher Clint Coulter, who is projected to come off the board before the opening round has been completed.
Every pick of the opening round and Compensation Round A of Major League Baseball's 2012 First-Year Player Draft will be aired by MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET, immediately following a one-hour preview show that begins at 6 p.m. ET. Rounds 2-40 will also be streamed live on MLB.com on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The second big question facing this Draft is one that may not be answered for a while. This is the first year of the new system which was collectively bargained by Major League Baseball and the Players' Association. Each team has a specific Draft bonus pool to draw from for their picks in the top 10 rounds. Going over the pool quickly leads to penalties, financial at first, then leading to forfeiture of Draft picks.
signing bonus pools
The Minnesota Twins, who have the No. 2 overall pick as well as extra selections in the compensation round, have the largest pool at just over $12.3 million. The Astros, with that top pick, are next at $11.1 million and change, while the Padres, Cardinals and Blue Jays, by virtue of multiple picks in the early rounds, finish out the top five. San Diego has four picks on Monday night, while St. Louis and Toronto have five apiece.
No one is completely sure how this new system will alter the landscape, with most thinking it won't really be clarified until everyone's gone through the drafting-and-signing process completely. There is some sentiment that more high school players -- the ones who may have slid further in the Draft and received over-slot bonuses to sign -- will end up at college now that the ability for teams to spend resources like that is greatly hampered.
"There is more uncertainty this year, not only because of the lack of talent outside of 8-10 elite players, but moreso because of the new rules and confusion as to how clubs might try to expose any perceived loopholes in those rules," one team executive said.
If any teams were going to be creative and flexible, it would be teams with multiple picks. There is the ability to sign players under-value throughout the first 10 rounds, then use that money to be a bit more aggressive on other, potentially tougher signs. That's why some believe that if anyone is going to take Lucas Giolito, the uber-talented high school pitcher who has become the biggest wild card in the Draft because of an elbow injury, it would have to be one of those teams with multiple picks.
There were even reports of teams trying to circumvent the system by entering non-prospect names, like team interns, to draft and then pay them a minimal amount in order to divert bonus money elsewhere. That plan was caught and thwarted by Major League Baseball. Other than that, though, it's largely been business as usual in getting ready for Monday, and beyond. It's still, in the end, about scouting and evaluating, with knowing whether a player is willing to sign for a certain amount perhaps taking on an even greater importance.
"I'm not sure there has really been any change in preparation," one scouting director said. "I think everyone is waiting to see how things shake out this spring. Signability still remains an important piece of the puzzle. "