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I've written several times that I won't believe an international draft will happen until I see it, including as recently as last September in Ask BA. The logistical hurdles just seemed too big to clear.

But the changes to the international signing process in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement clearly were designed to lead toward a worldwide draft in the near future. As Ben Badler reports, there's now a registration process for signing international players that parallels how clubs register potential amateur draft picks.

MLB still has to figure out a lot of the details and strike agreements with baseball governing bodies in foreign nations, but I now could envision an international draft as early as 2014.

    Who should the Royals draft with the fifth overall pick if Stanford righthander Mark Appel, Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton, San Francisco righthander Kyle Zimmer and Florida catcher Mike Zunino are the first four picks?

    John Hochunk
    St. Louis

Teams shouldn't pick for need at the top of the draft, though need is a legitimate separator when deciding between prospects of similar quality. However, the Royals' impressive rebuilding process won't be complete until they find some more pitching, so I'll be very surprised if they don't grab a college arm.

Kansas City picked fifth in the 2011 draft and coveted four advanced arms: Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer and precocious high schooler Dylan Bundy. The Royals would have taken any of those guys if they had fallen, but that didn't happen, so they scooped up the best athlete in last year's draft, Bubba Starling.

Assuming the draft plays out as John details above, I see Kansas City taking Louisiana State righthander Kevin Gausman. Gausman also is in the mix to go as high as No. 1 to the Astros, and if he goes ahead of the Royals, I bet they'd be happy to snag Appel or Zimmer.

I can't imagine Buxton falling to No. 5. But what if Appel, Gausman and Zimmer all come off the board before Kansas City's selection? Then the Royals would have to choose between Zunino—I'm not a believer in the injured Salvador Perez as a quality regular—or Texas A&M righthander Michael Wacha.

    I can't understand how Jeremy Hellickson was such a celebrated prospect, yet the Blue Jays' Drew Hutchison isn't seen in the same light. They're righthanders of approximately the same size and Hutchison's stuff seems to be every bit as good if not better. Can you explain the big gap in perception?

    Jamie Miles
    Columbus, Ohio

When Hellickson was the same age that Hutchison is now (21), they actually were perceived as similar prospects. Both signed for above-slot bonuses out of high school ($500,000 for Hellickson as a fourth-rounder in 2005, $400,000 for Hutchison as a 15th-rounder in 2009). Coming off their age-20 seasons in the minors, Hellickson ranked eighth on a stacked Rays Top 10 Prospects list and Hutchinson placed ninth on an equally deep Blue Jays Top 10.

At that point of their careers, Hellickson threw a tick or two harder than Hutchison and had a superior breaking pitch. Hutchison possessed a better changeup and command. Tampa Bay famously develops its young arms with patience, so Hellickson spent all of his age-20 season in low Class A, while Hutchison started there but had no problems making the jump to Double-A.

Hellickson generated more subsequent hype because of what he did after turning 21. He led the Rays system with a 2.96 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 2008, won MVP honors in the Triple-A national championship in 2009 and earned BA's Minor League Player of the Year award in 2010. He made four quality starts down the stretch for Tampa Bay in 2010, then helped the Rays return to the playoffs last year by winning 13 games and BA's Rookie of the Year award.

All that increased Hellickson's profile to where it is today. Hutchison made his big league debut two years faster, but he has a ways to go to match Hellickson's résumé.

    With the draft changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, specifically an earlier signing deadline, do you see more top picks than usual starting their pro careers in the minors this season, as opposed to waiting until 2013? If so, at what levels do you see the best talents starting?

    Tim Hargest

The new CBA moves the signing deadline a month earlier, from mid-August to mid-July. (This year, it's July 13, to be precise.) We'll still have several of the most talented draftees waiting until the deadline to sign, especially this summer as everyone adapts to the changes, but they'll now have seven weeks rather than three remaining in the minor league season once they turn pro.

With the August deadline, many last-minute signees didn't bother to make their pro debuts. Last year, for instance, 13 of the first 15 picks signed on Aug. 15. Only six of them appeared in the minors, combining for 103 at-bats and six innings on the mound.

The change mostly benefits high school prospects, who will get enough playing time to make it easier to jump to low Class A the following spring. Now someone like Buxton can get 150 or so plate appearances. Though clubs will handle prep pitchers carefully, even late signees should be able to get 25-30 innings of work in. Teams will turn college hitters loose but may opt to keep innings down on college pitchers who had heavy workloads during the spring.

I anticipate that almost all of the best high schoolers, such as Buxton, Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa and California lefthander Max Fried, will head to Rookie leagues. The very best college position players, led by Zunino, will probably get a tuneup in short-season ball but now have more time to advance to Class A. Appel, Gausman, Wacha, Zimmer and other top college arms still may get the summer off.

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