The purpose of the First-Year Player Draft is the same as it's ever been: to give teams the opportunity to rebuild from within, to restock farm systems with the idea that the teams that finished poorly the year prior get the chance to get the better players by getting the earlier picks. It's just that rules governing that system have changed somewhat dramatically.
The annual Draft takes place this year on June 4-6, beginning with the first round and Comp Round A on Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. ET. The first night of the event will be broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com. Rounds 2-40 will also be streamed live on MLB.com on June 5-6.
MLB.com's coverage, sponsored by CenturyLink, will include Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list, Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player, and Draft Caster. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
The change in the rules, by now, has been well-documented. Attempting to put a clamp on bonus expenditures, the most recent agreement that was collectively bargained put in "Draft pools" that limit a team's spending over the Draft's first 10 rounds unless it wants to incur fairly severe penalties. The Houston Astros will have the first selection in the Draft, and they have the second-largest pool to draw from.
Some of the names being mentioned as potential top picks are: college pitchers such as Stanford's Mark Appel, LSU's Kevin Gausman, the University of San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer and Texas A&M's Michael Wacha; Florida catcher Mike Zunino; and Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton, who is listed No. 1 on the new MLB.com Top Draft Prospects list, freshly expanded from 50 to 100. It's a class most people feel has some depth, but is lacking in the impact talent available a year ago.
The Twins, picking No. 2 overall and with two supplemental first-round picks, have the largest pool. Then there are teams with multiple picks in the early going. While they will have larger pools to draw from than others, trying to navigate the new system with extra selections won't be easy.
"I think we still scout how we've always scouted," said Andrew Tinnish, scouting director of the Toronto Blue Jays, who have two first-round picks (No. 17 and 22) and five of the first 60 selections. "We try to see the players our scouts identify, line them up based on ability. I don't think anything changes as far as preparation leading up to the Draft.
"Do I think it's going to be different? I do. I think everybody is kind of feeling their way through this. I might be prepared for scenario A, B, C or D, but I can't say for certain I know which one is going to happen."
Some of that is just the nature of the beast. The Draft is such an inexact science and it's been nearly impossible to know who would go where. This year, though, it's even more up in the air. In the past, a team like the Blue Jays had been aggressive, scooping up players who slid and going over slot to sign them. That can no longer happen, and that's where Tannish feels the biggest impact will be felt.
"I think the biggest change is more high school kids are going to go to college," Tannish said. "I think the kids higher in the Draft are going to sign. We've spent money on guys [in the past] after the fifth round. We're not going to have the same flexibility this year. If you like that kind of player, you'll have to take him in the second round or comp round.
"The system is a little more tight now. Certainly there will be more strategy who you take, who you sign and when you sign them and what you can sign them for, but as far as specific scenarios, I don't think we'll know until the Draft unfolds."
The St. Louis Cardinals are in the same boat. They have two first-rounders as well (Nos. 19 and 23) and will get to make five of the first 59 picks. Knowing what a player is willing to sign for has become increasingly important in the past few years as bonuses have escalated. It's even more important now, not in terms of asking the question, "Will we pay him that much?" but by asking, "Should I take him in this slot equal to his demands?"
"The most important [aspect] will be your pre-Draft due diligence on players' signability," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said." I know in the past this has been a popular area of discussion, but now more than ever, it is truly important, especially if a club is inclined to try to move money around -- in other words, pay above slot and then below slot at times. I'm not clear on the different types of gamesmanship that may occur, but one thing I know is you must understand a player's expectation prior to the Draft."
The real wild card might be the injured players in this Class. There are quite a few high-end ones, most notably high school right-hander Lucas Giolito. While injuries have always wreaked havoc with Draft boards over the years, there was always the safety net of letting an injury risk slide a bit and a team deciding to pay the player what he would have received if he hadn't been sidelined.
"I think the toughest guy is the hurt guy that you used to be able to draft in the third or fourth round, then watch him and pay him if you so desired," a scouting director said. "I think those guys will end up going to school. A Matt Smoral, you don't have enough information. Victor Roache from Georgia Southern. Giolito. You'd really like to be able to evaluate these guys closer to when you're picking them."
And that's getting closer and closer, with the Draft about a month away.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.