Stanford pitcher Mark Appel has emerged as one of the standout talents of the 2012 MLB Draft (Image | US Presswire)

For any young aspiring professional sportsperson in the United States, entering the Drafts, where the highest-rated young players are selected from colleges and sometimes high schools from across the country, is their best opportunity to launch their sporting career.

Usually, these Drafts signify the beginning of the new season, or at least indicate it is very close to beginning. Pundits on television channels at both a national and more localized level spend many weeks debating which individual will take the highest accolade available: being the first selection of the first round, usually by the team that finished with the worst record in their previous season.

Take the National Football League (NFL). The season climaxes with the Super Bowl in February, and within just a few weeks, the build-up to next season’s Draft begins with the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, designed to put the elite players from America’s colleges through a series of grueling tests of their skills.

However, even before that, NFL fans have a pretty good idea who will be drafted as the very first pick. The college season has enormous television audiences and almost blanket coverage on ESPN on game days, which often fall on a Saturday. The awarding of the Heisman Trophy to the player regarded as the best that season offers perhaps the clearest indication, with the winner often then looking to forge a career in the NFL, and regarded as one of the hottest young prospects available to the NFL franchises.

However, Major League Baseball (MLB) does things very differently. Preparations for the season began with the Spring Training leagues, lasting for a month from early March until early April. Then, the 162 game regular season starts with a vengeance, as teams travel the length and breadth of the country in an unrelenting schedule that lasts until the beginning of October. If a team then makes a playoff run, they can expect to still be playing at the end of the month, based on the final game of the 2011 World Series being played on October 28th last year between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals, the eventual champions.

Nestled in there, like the awkward child stood at the back of the school photograph, is the MLB Draft. Unless your team has one of the early picks in the first round, it is almost an afterthought, except on MLB Network, which provides exhaustive coverage of all things baseball around the clock for the sport’s fans. This year, the Draft takes place on Monday June 4, just over two months since the regular season began.

Given the obvious difference in quality between college or high school baseball and their heroes in the Major Leagues, it is perhaps no surprise that this Draft is something of an afterthought for many fans. After all, if the scouting predictions are proved to be correct, the players selected now may not make their MLB debuts for up to five years, maybe more.

Anyone who has seen the film Moneyball will note just how difficult it is for scouts in the game to predict a player’s future development based on their potential. Hence, this year there is a good number of players that could be selected by the Houston Astros, who have the privilege of the first overall pick in the draft. Recently, the Astros themselves had a total of five individuals in mind that they could select first, a high number compared to the one or two potential first picks usually seen in the NFL equivalent.

Even MLB scouts themselves have little idea of who will go first, with their Top 100 Draft Rankings being the only indicator of the best players available based purely on their current talent. At the time of writing, Byron Buxton, an outfielder from Appling County High School in Georgia and Mark Appel, a right-handed pitcher from Stanford University are ranked first and second respectively in the league’s rankings.

This year, there is no obvious number one choice, no “unanimous or consensus guy” as described by one scouting director to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. Understandably, clubs are reluctant to take such monetary risks on players based on their current abilities and scouting projections on those players that have been proved wrong time and again throughout the league’s history.

There is no stand-out individual in this year’s draft pool, so it will pass with little coverage in the mainstream American media. They will be more concerned with the ongoing regular season games, and who could blame them? After all, there is no guarantee that players such as Buxton or Appel will fulfill their potential and continue developing in the future. Any players selected will not be as recognizable as the most recent Heisman Trophy winner in college football, Robert Griffin III of Baylor University. If selected, players will begin their careers in the uncompromising Minor League systems of their new employers, and only a minority will make it to “The Show.” No wonder, then, that the MLB Draft receives such sparse attention.

Twitter | @chris_teale

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