As Matthew mentioned yesterday afternoon, the First-Year Player Draft is moving to prime time on the MLB Network
In light of the hype and, presumably, high ratings that accompanied last weekend's NFL draft, I understand what Major League Baseball is up to. I just question whether it's possible to turn the MLB draft into anything even approaching the spectacle the NFL puts on (assuming that's even a desirable goal).
With the exception of Stephen Strasburg, how many people know the top, say, ten players available? Not a heck of a lot, I'd wager, and I don't even know if casual fans know all that much about Stephen Strasburg. Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that the baseball draft, by definition, lacks the instant gratification, perceived or otherwise, that the NFL and NBA drafts provide. If you're a Jets fan you can kinda imagine what Mark Sanchez is going to look like in Kelly green and start dreaming big about next year. In almost every case, however, baseball fans will have to wait several years to see their team's draftees make the big club. That is, if they ever do. Simply put, the NFL draft is the sort of exercise in wishcasting that the MLB draft can never reasonably expect to be, and baseball would be wise not to present it as such.
None of which is to say that they shouldn't be broadcasting the draft. Assuming MLB Network approaches the draft in a smart way, the broadcast can be an educational tool. They can use this year to teach casual fans about Stephen Strasburg and all of the other draftees, for that matter. They can hip the audience to the world of scouting and player development, laying the foundation for deeper and richer fan interest in the player development pipeline and a greater fan appreciation for the prospects that do manage to make it through the meat grinder that is the minor leagues.
In other words, If baseball treats the broadcast as a means to an end (i.e. a richer overall fan experience) as opposed to an end itself (i.e. a standalone media and ratings phenomenon) things will be just fine. If, however, baseball enters this brave new world with NFL-style hype, bombast and overanalysis, they're in for a disappointment, because baseball's draft is just too messy for that.