Draft is live on MLB Network, MLB.com
MLB Network, MLB.com have live coverage of every pick
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- John Hart was drafted twice in 1969: once by Uncle Sam and once by the new Montreal Expos franchise.
"Catcher, 16th round," he remembers with a gleam in his eye. "I found out two days later. And then I remember later, when I first came in as a [Cleveland] general manager, it was very private. We didn't want players to know exactly where they were drafted right away."
Harold Reynolds was first drafted by the San Diego Padres in the sixth round as a high school senior shortstop in 1979. His older brother Larry was drafted two rounds earlier by Texas.
"In those days, you got a phone call that told you you were drafted," Reynolds said. "It might as well have been a ticker tape. My brother was a senior at Stanford, and I was a senior in high school. I called Larry and I said, 'I got drafted by the Padres!' I told him, 'You got drafted in the fourth round.' He said, 'You can't be joking around about this, Harold.' I'm like, 'Yeah, man!' He had no idea. That's what it was like."
The dream world is a new world now.
Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft, that first step to The Show, is about to become the definition of immediacy, openness, advanced technology and mass awareness on a live and widespread scale never experienced before -- light years from the realities of those respective selections 40 and 30 years ago. The expanded three-day event starts today at 6 p.m. ET, when the Nationals go on the clock with the first overall pick. They'll have 15 minutes to make their selection, and they're expected to choose San Diego State University pitcher Stephen Strasburg.
MLB Network, now in approximately 52 million households following the largest launch in cable TV history, will televise the entire first round live for the first time at its new studios in New Jersey, after two years of ESPN broadcasting the event at Disney World in Florida.
The 32 first-round selections will also be simulcast live on MLB.com. Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds will shift exclusively to MLB.com/Live, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos.
The Draft is where everyone is. Even if you are watching a game such as Red Sox-Yankees, you are likely to follow this. You probably know someone who might be drafted, or someone who knows someone who might be drafted. The Draft is everywhere.
Hart and Reynolds were rehearsing Monday inside Studio 42, where the now-familiar "MLB Park" replica field is filled with tables that will be occupied by dignitaries representing each club during the first round. Positioned at home plate is the podium where Commissioner Bud Selig will come out to announce each of the first-round picks.
"Major League Baseball is very pleased that MLB Network will host our First-Year Player Draft in Studio 42," Selig said. "As the Draft has gained more prominence in recent years, fans have embraced it with great enthusiasm. With the continued support of MLB.com and now the advent of the MLB Network, we are enthusiastic about the possibilities to continue to grow this event."
Working alongside Hart and Reynolds on the MLB Network crew will be host Greg Amsinger and MLB Scouting Bureau Director Frank Marcos. MLB.com senior writer Jonathan Mayo and Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis also will provide analysis.
The first day will consist of the first 111 picks, including Round One, Compensation Round A, Round Two, Round Three and Compensation Round B. There will be four minutes between first-round picks and one minute between all other selections. On Wednesday, the Draft will resume in the fourth round at noon ET and will be tentatively scheduled to go through the 30th round. The Draft will conclude on Thursday with the 31st through 50th rounds, beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET.
The MLB.com coverage will include a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and the exclusive Draft Tracker, a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player, featuring statistics, scouting reports and video highlights. It is a presentation that typically results in the heaviest traffic of the year on MLB.com, and this year it will be bigger than ever.
"For a player, it's your biggest day of your career," Hart said. "I can relate to that."
He should know. Hart was halfway through college, just finishing up at Seminole Community College in Florida, presented with an athletic scholarship to Florida Southern that next year, when the Expos drafted him in the "Summer of Love." The Vietnam War was in full swing, and Hart was also drafted into the military, and he remembers that his draft number was 27. He waited, never went to Vietnam but spent six years in the Reserves. He would make his mark later in the Majors, not as a player, but as a GM who knew how to draft.
As GM of the Indians from 1991-2001, Hart drafted current Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez in 1991 and current Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia in '98 as first-round picks. Hart is also the former GM of the Rangers, for whom he his now a special advisor.
"From a club perspective, even as a manager [briefly in 1989] or as a coach, but especially as a GM, you are tremendously excited for this time because you have a chance to improve your organization significantly," Hart said. "To be able to add that perspective of what clubs are looking for, how they grade, do you draft for need, position player or pitcher, tools -- those are things that having sat through 20-plus years of Drafts I'll be able to add my insight on.
"With the Indians, we were a smallish market, and so much of building was the Draft. Scouts who worked for me would tell you I'd be in that Draft room 10 days before the first pick. It gave me a great background. I had the advantage to go in and talk to those picks a couple years later when they were up. You get familiar with the players."
Hart worked on the crew that brought MLB Network viewers the popular "30 Teams In 30 Days" series this spring, and he said it is "interesting, because I was always the guy on the other side of the camera. I made the decision to come here. I was a little unsure, since I was still affiliated with Texas. I spoke with my owner, and I didn't know much about it to be honest with you. But it started with Tony Petitti. He has a passion for baseball, and they wanted to do it the right way."
Petitti is the CEO of the MLB Network, which is nearly halfway through its first year of existence and adding milestones like this all the time.
"Any time you can get someone at John's level, building clubs, it's a big win," Petitti said of Hart. "He's been in those rooms. He had a great track record and is good at communicating with people."
Walk through the MLB Network studios, and you see new pictures of baseball players splashed all over the walls. You see a white wall outside Studio 42 that has been autographed by the biggest names in baseball, who have been guests on the set of "MLB Tonight" and other programs. What strikes you most about it all right now is that almost all of them got their start just like this, in the Draft. But the Draft was never this big.
Ask anyone involved here, and they will tell you that the multiplatform presentation of the 2009 Draft just makes sense. It is by baseball-only for baseball-only. It is more detail, fact and analysis than probably most anyone could possibly digest between now and the close of business Thursday. Somewhere in that mass of names will be a Hall of Famer. Somewhere will be an average guy years from now who can say he was drafted. There will be hits, and there will be misses.
And the biggest hit may be the presentation.
"The best thing about this is, we're servicing the bloodline of Major League Baseball -- and that's the grassroots fan," Reynolds said, changing clothes between the Draft rehearsal and his regular gig as "MLB Tonight" studio analyst. "It's for the 14 million kids who play baseball in this country.
"Secondly, it's the greatest day for a young kid. Draft day. How exciting is that? Some will be disappointed, but most will be excited."
John Entz, senior vice president of production for MLB Network, said having the responsibility for staging this production with MLB is a dream assignment.
"There are very few sports events that are under-served these days, but this has a ton of room for growth," he said. "It used to be done with phone calls. We're going to hopefully create something special with this and start memories in 2009."
The club representatives were added elements to this Draft the past two years at Disney, and that tradition returns in this new setting. Some of the many big names you will see at those tables in prime time include Craig Biggio (Astros), Al Kaline (Tigers), Tino Martinez (Yankees), Jay Buhner (Mariners), Fred McGriff (Rays), John Franco (Mets), Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers), Eric Davis (Reds) and Bill Mazeroski (Pirates).
And it makes sense that former leadoff man Devon White will be at the Nationals' table, as that club leads off the Draft.
The selection order of the First-Year Player Draft is determined by the reverse order of finish at the close of the previous championship season. The Nationals thus have that shot at Strasburg, who could be a Major Leaguer in his first pro season, if his signing goes smoothly. It is worth noting that the Nationals are on pace to have the first pick next year as well, and their fans probably are now well aware of the growing legend of likely 2010 top overall pick Bryce Harper, the high school prodigy who is on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated as "the LeBron James of baseball." Nats fans are glued to the Draft, which certainly helped Tampa Bay go from a perennial loser to last year's American League champs.
Compensation picks have been assigned to clubs that had Type A or Type B free agents sign with other clubs and/or to clubs that did not sign a player who was chosen in the first three rounds of the 2008 Draft. Five clubs will have a pair of first-round choices: the Nationals (first and 10th); the Mariners (second and 27th); the Rockies (11th and 32nd); the D-backs (16th and 17th) and the Angels (24th and 25th).
The Draft will have 50 rounds and will conclude after all 30 teams have passed on a selection or after the final selection of the 50th round, whichever comes first. It also will be interactive on Twitter, so follow @MLBDraft if you are on Twitter and be sure to include #mlbdraft within any tweets.
"Major League Baseball and our 30 clubs realize that the First-Year Player Draft is an area of increasing interest among baseball fans," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. "The response within the industry has been remarkable. We are thrilled that MLB Network and MLB.com will bring the 2009 Draft to a primetime national audience. It will be a great night in Studio 42."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.