Major League Baseball’s Rule IV First Year Player Draft is scheduled to begin tonight, and while the players selected this evening, tomorrow and Wednesday won’t have the immediate impact on their new teams that the draft classes of other North American sports do, it’s sure as heck not going to stop MLB from making a production out of it.

The process will be broadcast live on the MLB Network in the United States and on Rogers Sportsnet One in Canada starting at 7:00 PM EDT, and you better believe that Getting Blanked will have a live blog / chat ready and raring to go as all the magic unfolds. We’ll include all of the Twitter feeds of the best draft analysts (and maybe Jon Heyman, too) so that, unlike Bruce Willis at the end of Armageddon, we won’t miss a thing.

Ahead of the draft you can join us right here at 3:00 PM EDT for a live stream to talk about some of the players that the Toronto Blue Jays might be considering.

But before we look at the specifics of this year’s draft, let’s get a few of the rules straight.

The Order

Tonight we’ll see the first round followed by the first compensatory round, before the second round and onward go tomorrow and Wednesday. The order is set as the reverse of last year’s standings. However, free agent signings sometimes force teams in the back half of the draft order to give up their first round pick to the team that is losing the free agent they signed. Teams that were unable to sign their first round pick last season also get the same draft slot in the next year. That’s why there will be 33 picks in this year’s first round.

Eligibility

As usual, residents of the United States, Canada, and U.S. territories are the only players eligible. High school players are eligible only after graduation, without attending college. Once a player enters a four year program in college, they can only be eligible after their junior year or after their 21st birthday.

Signing

Teams will have until August 15th to sign the players they draft over the next three days. Players not signing, either because they couldn’t agree on a signing bonus with their club or they wish to attend college, will go back into the draft when they meet requirements again, but the same team can’t draft them again without the player’s permission

Slot

While watching tonight’s coverage, you’re going to hear the term “slot” used (pardon the rhyme) a lot. This refers to a series of recommendations from the Commissioner’s Office regarding signing bonuses. Each of the early draft picks have an assigned figure, and supposedly, if you go over this recommendation, Bud Selig flashes you a dirty look the next time you see him in the hallway.

In order to sign the top picks, it’s often necessary to go over slot. And because of the value that drafted players represent to teams (years of control, half of which at a secured rate), signing bonuses offer organizations one of the best bargains in baseball.

This Year

Pundits have claimed that while this year’s draft lacks the one obvious superstar like Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper from recent past drafts, this year’s batch of eligible players represents one of the deepest overall pools of talent in some time. The Pittsburgh Pirates have the first pick tonight, but to this point they’ve remained quiet as to who they intend on selecting.

Two of the bigger names in draft pick prospecting, ESPN’s Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein both believe that right handed college pitcher Gerrit Cole from UCLA will be the Pirates’ choice, but Jim Callis of Baseball America suggests that Danny Hultzen, a left handed pitcher from Virginia, will be the first player taken. Update: Jonathan Mayo informs us that the Pirates will take Cole with the first pick.

Sources

Several people will be offering their own mock drafts, but the prospect writing triumvirate I mentioned above are the best at knowing the talent available and matching it to the drafting philosophies of each organization. Last week, ESPN’s Jason Churchill looked at what those philosophies just might be for both American League and National League teams. These quick capsule previews will be a very handy resource tonight, as will be MLB’s top 50 draft prospects, which includes video of most of the players who will likely get selected tonight.

Afterwards

By three days after the draft, it’s a proven fact that baseball fans completely forget about 90% of the draft picks that they were just celebrating or denigrating. They’re only reminded of them again three to four years later when they desperately try to fill out their roster in the later rounds of a fantasy baseball draft.

While it’s fun to get caught up in the excitement of your favourite team building the foundation for its future, it’s important to remember to keep a little bit of perspective. Most of the players being selected will never rise above the Minor Leagues. And for those that do see time in The Show (which I still feel uncomfortable using in reference to MLB), we’re not going to see them in a uniform for some time.

However, there is a little bit of extra pleasure for baseball fans to be found at the draft. There’s something to be said for following a player on your favourite team from the moment they become a part of it, to them rising through the system, to their first invite to Spring Training, to their first at bat, their first home run, their first standing ovation from the home town fans, to them leaving via free agency years later only to sign a bloated contract with a rival.

It’s the circle of life, baseball style. And a new circle begins tonight.