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Draft Nitty-Gritty

WHEN
Tuesday-Wednesday, June 4-5

WHAT
The draft, known formally by Major League Baseball as the first-year player draft, is held every June--generally the first Tuesday of the month--by conference call among the 30 major league clubs. The clubs select players in reverse order of their won-loss records from the previous season, alternating between American and National League clubs.

The draft can go no more than 50 rounds, though it could end earlier. Each club is entitled to select for 50 rounds but is not required to. Once a team passes its pick, it is done drafting for the year. Until 1998, teams were allowed to continue drafting until they passed, with no limit on the number of rounds.

An American League club selects first in odd-numbered years; a National League club first in even-numbered years. The Pirates have the No. 1 selection this year, the third time they have been in this position. They also picked first in 1986 (Jeff King) and 1996 (Kris Benson).

HOW
The draft is conducted from the commissioner's office in New York by means of a conference call. The draft will end after 50 rounds, which should take two days.

The first day (June 4) begins at 1 p.m. Eastern and concludes about 6 p.m. Usually, the draft goes through about 20 rounds on the first day. The second day will begin at noon and is scheduled to end at 6 p.m.

Each team has two minutes to select a player. Teams remain in the draft until they pass or the draft ends.

The scout responsible for a player's selection usually contacts the player by phone immediately after the player is picked.

The team that selects a player has an exclusive right to negotiate with him for as long as 51 weeks and must offer him a written minor league contract within 15 days of selection. Failure to do so can terminate the club's negotiating rights, making the player a free agent and eligible to negotiate with any team. This is what happened in 1996, when four players, including Travis Lee, became free agents and signed for record bonuses.

WHERE
Because the draft is conducted by conference call, it doesn't really exist anywhere except the commissioner's office. You won't find a ballroom with bright lights, media and players waiting anxiously to get picked.

That also means the draft receives less coverage than the drafts of other sports and is not on television. The best places to follow the draft are here at baseballamerica.com and on the official Major League Baseball Website, mlb.com.

MLB Radio did provide the first live audio coverage of the draft last year, hosted by Baseball America experts, and plans to do the same this year. You can find MLB Radio through the mlb.com site.

WHO
Major league rules govern which players are eligible for selection in the draft. These rules are detailed, but the basic eligibility criteria are straightforward.

An eligible player first must be a resident of the United States (including Puerto Rico and other territories) or Canada and never have signed a major league or minor league contract. However, players in a high school or college in the United States are eligible, regardless of where they are from originally.

The main categories of players eligible to be drafted are:

High school seniors, if they have not yet attended college or junior college;

College juniors and seniors or college players who are at least 21 years old. A fifth-year college senior may sign a minor league contract as soon as he finishes his last class in college. College players who have dropped out of school can apply for the draft by writing the commissioner's office no later than March 20;

Junior college players;

Players who are 21 within 45 days of the draft.

A player who is eligible for the draft and is passed over by every club becomes a free agent and may sign with any club until one week before the next draft, or until the player enters or returns to a four-year college, or returns to a junior college.

If a drafted player attends a four-year college, the club loses its negotiating rights as soon as the player attends his first class. The player is not eligible for the draft again until he meets one of the above requirements.

For a player attending junior college, the selecting club keeps its rights until one week before the next draft. One week before any draft begins what is called the closed period, during which the general rule is that no club may sign a new player. A junior-college player cannot be signed until the end of his school's baseball season.

Waiting to sign juco players until after they have played a season is commonly referred to as the draft-and-follow process, or DFE for draft, follow and evaluate.

A player who does not sign with the club that selected him can be drafted again when he meets one of the above eligibility requirements. A club is not allowed to select an unsigned player two years in a row, unless the player gives written consent.

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