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Draft shaping up to be a challenge for scouts

Appel, Gray are top candidates to go No. 1, but there's little separation among the rest

Next month, Major League Baseball will take a few days in the present to take a look into the future.

Baseball is the only major sport to hold its Draft during its season, giving fans the opportunity to see how their teams are building for down the road at the same time as watching what they currently are doing on the field.

It all begins on June 6 with a live broadcast of the Draft's opening night on MLB Network and, the preview show scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET followed by the first round of the Draft beginning at 7. Seventy-three picks, through Competitive Balance Round B, will be made that night. Rounds 3-40 will be streamed live on on June 7-8.'s coverage will also include Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker -- a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of eligible players. Fans can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter and joining the Draft conversation by tagging their tweets with #mlbdraft.

The Draft has an ever-changing landscape, from year to year, even week to week.'s Top 100 Draft prospects is updated regularly. But there are two things that are similar to last year's Draft: The Houston Astros have the No. 1 pick and Stanford ace Mark Appel is a legitimate candidate to be selected with that pick.

It's the third time a team has had back-to-back top picks, the Tampa Bay Rays having taken David Price and Tim Beckham in 2007 and '08 and the Washington Nationals getting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in 2009 and '10. But neither the Rays nor the Nats had a real opportunity to consider the same players for two years in a row.

2013 draft order
The order of the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft:
No. Team
1 Astros
2 Cubs
3 Rockies
4 Twins
5 Indians
6 Marlins
7 Red Sox
8 Royals
9 Pirates (M. Appel - unsigned)
10 Blue Jays
11 Mets
12 Mariners
13 Padres
14 Pirates
15 D-backs
16 Phillies
17 White Sox
18 Dodgers
19 Cardinals
20 Tigers
21 Rays
22 Orioles
23 Rangers
24 Athletics
25 Giants
26 Yankees
27 Reds
28 Cardinals (Comp for K. Lohse)
29 Rays (Comp for B.J. Upton)
30 Rangers (Comp for J. Hamilton)
31 Braves (Comp for M. Bourn)
32 Yankees (Comp for N. Swisher)
33 Yankees (Comp for R. Soriano)
Click here to view the complete Draft order.

In 2012, Appel didn't go No. 1, slipping to No. 8, when the Pirates rolled the dice and took him. He opted to return to Stanford and he's been more consistently dominant this year than he was as a junior, the reason why he's No. 1 on the Top 100 list.

But Appel isn't the only player being considered by the Astros, as at least a half-dozen players potentially are in play, with Oklahoma ace Jonathan Gray playing a close 1-A to Appel. Considering their selection last year of shortstop Carlos Correa of Puerto Rico, which allowed them to sign an overall No. 1 pick for less than the recommended bonus, it wouldn't shock anyone if Houston once again is creative in using the Draft bonus-pool system that was put in place last year.

"I don't think we're going to have any dramatic narrowing until the end," said Mike Elias, the Astros' director of amateur scouting. "I think it's important to keep scouting them until the very end. We're making sure we're keeping the field as open as we can. We are not going to make that decision when there's no reason to."

The Chicago Cubs, picking No. 2, also have said they have about six candidates for that pick, with many in the industry seeing a Gray-Appel 1-2 start to the Draft. The Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians round out the top five selections.

The Miami Marlins are up at No. 6, the first of what will be four picks for the organization on the Draft's first night. They join the New York Yankees as the only two teams with that many selections through the first two rounds. The Yanks get their extra picks -- Nos. 32 and 33 -- due to the losses of Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano to free agency.

The Marlins get their added selections thanks to the newest wrinkle in the Draft: the Competitive Balance Rounds. They initially received the No. 6 pick in Competitive Balance Round A during a lottery held last July. They traded that pick to the Tigers, but they received the second pick of Round A, pick No. 35 overall, from the Pirates in a trade involving Gaby Sanchez. Miami picked up the final pick in Competitive Balance Round B in the swap with Detroit.

"We're looking at a lot of different ways to do it," Marlins vice president of scouting Stan Meek said. "We're doing what we can to utilize the money the best way we can.

"What Houston did [in 2012] worked for them. They worked it to the way they thought it worked to their advantage. We'll try to do the same. We'll try to use our money to the greatest extent. It's different based on how you see players. We're trying to see all avenues and that's created even more work for us."

One of the challenges in trying to do that has been that there hasn't been much separation between the eligible players, leaving many teams wondering who exactly belongs at the top of Draft boards. Some have seen Appel and Gray as the only two players who have truly been consistent all year, at least in what looked to be a strong college pitching crop coming into the season. And if the Marlins are feeling challenged up there, imagine what teams picking lower down in the first round are dealing with.

"You have to make sure you're comfortable with the guy at 6, but the first guy doesn't make your Draft," Meek explained about trying to juggle all the picks. "We've had to scout them all. It's kept us running pretty hard getting looks at everybody.

"We've had a lot of difference of opinion on players, too. It's been harder to find consensus. It's been a big challenge. This year, in my 12 years of doing it, it's been the toughest in terms of getting a consensus on the top guys. There are probably two or three guys that everyone would agree on in our group, then it splinters pretty good."

There are some agreed-upon strengths of the Draft, at least in terms of depth. There's a good amount of left-handed pitching and a surprisingly large amount of high school catchers, with perhaps as many as three prep backstops finding their way into the first round. The depth might make it a better Draft as it winds into the later rounds, even if it provides a stiffer challenge at the top, especially given the increase in Draft pool money allotted for picks across the top 10 rounds.

"Eight percent was added to the pools, but I don't think eight percent has been added to the ability [in the class]," one scouting director said. "In any Draft, there are always good big leaguers. It's our job to sift those guys out and try to make good decisions.

"The late risers in this Draft could make some big jumps, because we're a little uncertain about what we've seen so far."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter.