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MLB Draft kicks off tonight

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By Josh Herzenberg - Strasburg Express

In only a few hours, thousands of high school and college-aged baseball players will have their lives completely changed. Tonight is the 2011 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.

The MLB Draft is different than those of the other major American sports. In 2006, for example, the drafts for these respective sports were the following lengths:

  • NHL- 7 rounds, 215 picks
  • NBA- 2 rounds, 60 picks
  • NFL- 7 rounds, 256 picks

The MLB Draft in 2006...50 rounds, 1,503 picks.

Why so many selections? Well, baseball is the only sport to have an extensive minor league system, where very few draft picks go straight from amateur baseball to the Major Leagues (only four players since 1990 have done so). Organizations draft players in order to put them into the minor leagues and develop them into the future Major League stars they hope to be.

There is also largely a lack of fanfare surrounding the Major League Draft. If you turn on ESPN during the months of March and April, you probably can't go more than five minutes without hearing about the NFL Draft (I like football, but it starts to get really annoying in my opinion). However, most people probably didn't even know that the MLB Draft kicked off tonight. This is most likely a result of the aforementioned fact that players do not go directly to the majors in most cases. The typical instant gratification that Americans are so fond of and used to (myself included, of course) isn't met in this scenario. Most people don't really care to know about the young men who are drafted and going to be sent to the small minor league stadiums around the country where they'll toil for a few years in hopes to get a shot at the big stage. It's just not that appealing.

But truth be told, it's a big deal for many, many people. 2009 and 2010 were revolutionary years in the MLB Draft ... each saw two of the greatest prospects to ever live get record-breaking signing bonuses and more hype than probably any other amateur player in the history of baseball. In 2009, Stephen Strasburg broke onto the scene out of San Diego State University and earned himself a $15 million signing bonus from the Washington Nationals. Six-feet, five inches and armed with a 100+mph fastball and a great curveball, Strasburg was a "can't miss" prospect. He burst onto the scene in the big leagues last summer after a brief stint in the minors and dominated ... until he blew out his elbow and got Tommy John Surgery (see my past blog post titled "From Mount Everest to Death Valley in the blink of an eye").

In the late summer of 2009, a 16 year old rising high school junior made the decision to get his GED, skip his last two years of high school and enroll in a junior college called the College of Southern Nevada. Nine months later, he was the most heralded hitting prospect in the nation, a 6'3" strapping left-handed swinger with incredible power. The Nationals drafted him once again first overall and signed him to a $10 million bonus. Last week, I took a drive to Hagerstown, Md., with my fellow Express teammate Trey Such to catch a minor league game. I videotaped that prospect's second at-bat on my phone and put it on the Internet... Watch it here.

This is an interesting time for amateur baseball. Most states are just finishing up their high school tournaments. The NCAA Division I Regionals have just finished up. Most collegiate wood bat summer leagues are just getting under way. And of course, as I mentioned, the draft is being held tonight (7 p.m. EDT June 6) through Wednesday.

Just as the college season comes winding to an end for most, the Valley League season has begun. While there are many distractions that deter onlookers from the VBL season (things such as the draft, the NCAA tournament, or high school state tournaments...Strasburg has advanced to the state quarterfinals and plays tomorrow night), many people still manage to come out to the parks throughout the valley in support of the college athletes who have come to town to play some ball.

Last Thursday, June 2, was the opening night for the Strasburg Express and there was a fabulous turnout. It seemed as if the entire town showed up to First Bank Park to commemorate the celebration of the opening night and to participate in the festivities. The pregame festivities consisted of a memorable appreciation of United States military veterans, and ended with the grandson of Jack Marsh, the former Secretary of the Army, throwing out the first pitch.

Today is an off-day, and most of us will be getting together and watching the draft on television before starting up again tomorrow night against Haymarket at home.

See you all at the park!

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