The opening round of the 2014 MLB draft will likely be dominated by pitching. A majority of the top prospects, including the top three, are starting pitchers, and it's the one position where no organization in baseball can have enough depth.
What makes the MLB draft so much different from its counterparts in the NFL and NBA is the amount of development time still remaining. Most of the players selected, even in the first round, still have several years of minor league ball ahead before reaching the majors.
In turn, the front offices are focused more on tools than current ability. With that in mind, let's check all of the important viewing information for Thursday night, followed by a look at some of the top stories to track throughout the first round.
Where: Studio 42 in Secaucus, New Jersey
When: Thursday, June 5, at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: MLB Network
Live Stream: MLB.com
Carlos Rodon's Stock Remains High
Rodon has long been viewed as the top prospect in the class. His status started to come into question after a lackluster season (by his standards) at NC State paired with the rise of Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek. It led to a fierce battle for the honor of going first overall.
The one advantage he holds over Aiken and Kolek, both high school pitchers, is experience and development. Mark Thompson of the Greensboro News & Record passed along comments from draft analyst Jim Callis, who thinks that experience will give Rodon the edge:
I don't think it's as clear-cut as it seemed coming into the year when he was a strong favorite, but I still think teams generally prefer a college pitcher to a high school pitcher. He's been better lately. … I don't think he was as dominant earlier in the season as people hoped.
Even if Rodon is overtaken by another one of the starters, he won't stay on the board for long. He's got a solid fastball to go along with a devastating slider. He still needs to develop a third pitch, preferably a reliable changeup, but the ace potential is obvious.
Late Risers Take Center Stage
One constant across the draft spectrum is the impact of players who enjoy a late rise up the boards. These are players who were previously projected to go outside of Round 1 but do enough to convince a team to take a chance on them earlier based on a well-timed surge.
Those picks tend to have a trickle-down effect that lasts into the second round as other prospects take a step back. Jim Callis of MLB.com pointed out a couple players who have made a strong statement in recent months:
The two players with the most helium are Elk Grove (Calif.) High outfielder Derek Hill and Virginia right-hander Nick Howard. Hill ranked 64th and Howard 75th on the Draft Top 100 Prospects list we released in April, and they both now figure to go in the first 15-25 picks.
Derek Hill is a perfect example of how tools can really help a prospect stand out. He's still a raw talent, but his combination of contact ability, speed and fielding is impossible to ignore. If he can further develop his power, he could become a five-tool star at the major league level.
Team Representatives Named
One cool part of the draft itself is the presence of former players from each team who represent the past as a new wave of young players enter the league. Having them in attendance is an added draw to what is a pretty mundane process.
MLB.com's Mark Newman provided the full list of players who will rep clubs during the event. The group includes several big names who have left their mark on the sport over the years, including Andre Dawson and Fergie Jenkins:
Jenkins, the 1971 National League Cy Young Award winner, and Dawson, the '87 NL MVP, will be joined on the floor by fellow award-winners Randy Jones ('76 NL Cy Young), Frank Viola ('88 American League Cy Young), Chris Carpenter (2005 NL Cy Young) and Ivan Rodriguez ('99 AL MVP).
All told, the players that will be in attendance have plenty of accolades on their resumes. If the prospects who are drafted during the first round can replicate even a portion of the success of the team representatives, they will have enjoyed very good careers.
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