Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft gets underway next Thursday with the Houston Astros holding the top overall pick for the third straight year and fifth time in team history.
Not only are the Astros the first team to ever have three straight No. 1 overall picks, but they are now the third team in history to hold the dubious distinction of having the top selection at least five times, joining the New York Mets and San Diego Padres.
Houston, though, has done very nicely for itself the last two years, picking shortstop Carlos Correa in 2012 before choosing Stanford righty Mark Appel first last season. They also selected third baseman Phil Nevin first back in 1992 and made left-hander Floyd Bannister the No. 1 pick in 1976.
This year, though, Houston really hasn't given any indication which way it may be leaning, although most think it will come down to a choice between San Diego prep left-hander Brady Aiken and North Carolina State southpaw Carlos Rodon.
Aiken, who could become the first high school lefty to go in the top-five since 2002, has been on scouts' radars for a while, but jumped to the top of most draft boards this spring thanks to a fastball that has reached 97 mph.
Rodon, meanwhile, is considered more of a sure bet, given the fact he's close to being major league ready after pitching three years for the Wolfpack. Some have mentioned that he's the best college left-hander since David Price was the No. 1 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Rays out of Vanderbilt back in 2007.
The driving force behind NC State's first World Series berth in 45 years last season, Rodon hasn't been as impressive as he was a year ago when he set a team record for strikeouts in a season, but still pitched to a 2.01 ERA, while striking out 117 batters in 98 2/3 innings.
Rodon overpowers hitters with two pitches, a fastball that sits at 91-94 mph, but can reach 97, and a slider that usually arrives in the mid-80s.
If he doesn't go No. 1, most think Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria won't let the Cuban-American Miami-born hurler slip past him at two.
After the Marlins, the Chicago White Sox will select third, followed by the Cubs and Minnesota Twins. The Seattle Mariners will select sixth, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays and Mets completing the Top 10.
Six clubs - the Blue Jays (9th and 11th), Kansas City Royals (17th and 28th), Cincinnati Reds (19th and 29th), Cleveland Indians (21st and 31st), Boston Red Sox (26th and 33rd) and St. Louis Cardinals (27th and 34th) - have two selections in the first round. The Indians, Miami Marlins and Royals each have a league-high four selections within the first 68 picks during the opening day of the Draft.
As is almost always the case pitching will dominate the early picks, but the first bat off the board figures to be a high school slugger from California, Alex Jackson.
Jackson, the top right-handed bat in this class, hits the ball to all fields and does so with power. As is the case with most power hitters, his swing gets a little loose at times, but should he tighten that up he could evolve into a .300 hitter.
The only question on him will be where to play him. Jackson spent most of the spring behind the plate, but has an arm good enough to play the outfield, which would also fast track him to the majors. Either way, once he makes it to the next level it will be because of his bat not his glove.
Other players who figure to hear their name called early next Thursday will be Texas prep right-hander Tyler Kolek, Louisiana State righty Aaron Nola, Hartford lefty Sean Newcomb, shortstop Trea Turner from NC State and Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto.
Also Nick Gordon, son of former major league reliever Tom and brother of Dodgers' infielder Dee, is considered the top shortstop in this draft and should come off the board somewhere in the top-10.
For the second straight year, the Draft will feature Competitive Balance rounds, which were agreed upon as a part of the 2012-2016 Basic Agreement between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association.
The Competitive Balance rounds give clubs with the lowest revenues and in the smallest markets the opportunity to obtain additional draft picks through a lottery, which was held last July.
The 10 clubs with the lowest revenues and the 10 clubs in the smallest markets were entered into a lottery for the six selections immediately following the first round of the First-Year Player Draft (picks 35-41; excluding pick 36, which Miami holds as compensation for an unsigned 2013 selection).
The eligible clubs that did not receive one of the six selections after the first round, and all other payee clubs under the Revenue Sharing Plan, were entered into a second lottery for the six picks immediately following the second round of the Draft (picks 69-74).
Once again the draft will take place over three days. The first day will consist of the first 74 picks, including Round 1 and Competitive Balance Round A, the second round and Competitive Balance Round B. There will be four and a half minutes between first-round picks, two minutes during Competitive Balance Round A, and one minute during the second round and Competitive Balance Round B.
On Friday, the draft will resume in the second round at 1 p.m. EDT and will be tentatively scheduled to go through the 10th round. The festivities will then conclude on Saturday, which will again begin at 1 p.m. EDT and is set to cover rounds 11-40.
The inaugural Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was held in New York in 1965. The selection rotation is determined by the clubs' reverse order of their won-lost records at the close of the previous regular season, regardless of league.
There will be 40 rounds in the draft and it will finish after all 30 teams have passed on a selection or after the final selection in the 40th round, whichever comes first.
Former No. 1 overall selections include current major league stars Alex Rodriguez (1993), Josh Hamilton (1999), Adrian Gonzalez (2000), Joe Mauer (2001), Price (2007), Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010).