MLB Network has televised the first round of the MLB Draft since 2009, their first year on the air, but that draft coverage has always originated from their Secaucus, New Jersey studios. That’s changing this year, as they’ll be producing coverage of the first round and the first competitive balance round live from the Bellco Theatre at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver as part of the All-Star Game festivities Sunday night, with that coverage starting at 7 p.m. Eastern (following a one-hour draft preview show). Greg Amsinger, who’s been hosting the network’s draft coverage since that 2009 start, will again be hosting this time around, and he spoke to AA earlier this week about what it means for their draft coverage to go live on location and to be the only MLB event that night.
“I think it’s symbolic of the growth and the importance of this event,” Amsinger said. “Major League Baseball has invested in this. And for the first time ever, we’re not going to be competing against ourselves; there’s not going to be another MLB game airing. So you have all 30 markets, fans everywhere, if they want baseball content that can alter their organization. It’s not going to be the second game of a four-game series that they’re paying attention to, it’s going to be who their favorite team is drafting on night one.”
“So we’ll have the entire MLB audience dialed in. And then to have this in a beautiful venue in downtown Denver, to share this audience with our friends at ESPN [ESPN is airing their own first-round coverage] and grab as many eyeballs as possible, it’s all good for the game. And it shows MLB’s commitment to making this a marquee event.”
Amsinger said the location will add a whole lot for those watching from home, and there will be opportunities for fans in the area to watch as well.
“There will be different beauty shots coming into a segment, going out of a segment. We’re going to be in a square downtown, and there will be an area where there’s a big screen airing the draft live. So there will be baseball fans who have filed out of the Futures Game inside Coors Field all hanging out in a really cool area down there, and they’re going to be watching and listening.”
“The ambiance will be different, there’s no question about that. And to have it in a dramatic theater, and we’ve got a terrific production team that’s pulling out all the stops to make this a gorgeous thing that’s going to pop on television. And to me, I think that’s going to add to the importance of what it means.”
He said he thinks having fans there will enhance the broadcast.
“When it comes to fans, excitement is everything. What we saw last year during the pandemic at baseball stadiums, it was hard to watch games without fans. They’ve added so much this year to the regular season. And it’s really going to make the draft even bigger and better when they stand up and cheer when their favorite team makes a pick.”
Amsinger said the MLB draft hasn’t always received as much attention as drafts in other sports, and some of that’s about it taking longer than other sports for players to get to the big leagues. But that developmental time is shortening for many top stars, and he thinks that’s contributing to the growing interest in this event.
“So many people have been thinking for years that the MLB draft, it’s a bunch of kids you don’t really know, and you’re not going to see them in the big leagues for years and years anyway. Well, we’re starting to see that that’s all debunked. The game’s getting younger, and these kids are getting faster, and they’re altering the way we look at divisions, the postseason, and the organization. It’s an important event, and I think what you’ll see on Sunday night is how important it looks.”
He said it’s also been helpful that there seem to be more people interested in prospects and farm systems than in the past, and that’s boosting draft interest.
“I think people want to know more about what they don’t know. Baseball has a constant product where you can never truly be dialed in, and that’s the draft. You can act like you know everybody in your farm system, and there are hardcore fans that really do, but when it comes to who’s going to join that farm system, I think there’s a thirst for the unknown.”
Amsinger added that fans can find more content on these prospects than ever before, and that the growing volumes of content on prospects is also helpful for the MLB Network production team.
“There’s so much content now. I can go online to multiple websites and watch Kahlil Watson swing, I can watch him pick ground balls. There are so many great highlights out there that we can feel like ‘Man, I like the player.’ And if I want to hear what a player sounds like, I can dial up Henry Davis sitting down with Dan O’Dowd on MLB Network and hear his unique answers to questions.”
“We’ve got so much content on these guys now. The industry has completely changed, and I think you’re getting closer and closer to people looking at these amateur players…not like household names yet, not like SEC football where you’re winning the Heisman Trophy and being a first-round pick in the NFL, but it’s getting closer. And I think that momentum is what’s building this draft to be a tremendous success.”
Amsinger said he’s long watched and enjoyed NFL and NBA draft coverage, and he’s taken some lessons there in the tricky challenge of hosting a live event that has action happening at irregular times.
“I’m a big fan of all of them. And obviously, when I first started doing this, I wanted to watch the way the Chris Bermans of the world hosted their respective drafts. Because it is an undertaking; it’s a very difficult show to host, because you’ve got breaking news walking over your shoulder, when the commissioner walks to the podium. You can’t trample all over that. Timing is vital. But then there’s times when the pick isn’t in, and now you’re stretching. And as a host, I can’t exactly just tee up Harold [Reynolds] and have Harold talk, because at any moment the commissioner could walk back in to the podium.”
“You’ve got to have it; you have the microphone, so what do you say? For that to be a comfortable thing and a smooth thing, you have to be dialed into the players that are just drafted, that are about to get drafted, the draft classes from years past, the kinds of trends that teams have had in first-round picks.”
Another challenge with the MLB draft is that it’s covering two quite different groups of players, those coming from high school and those coming from the college ranks. Amsinger said the key to making that work is the pre-draft preparation from the production team.
“It’s a difficult undertaking. The production team that has been doing this for 13 years at MLB Network, I’m just so blessed. I’m a spoiled host to be working with this crew, from our coordinating producer Marc Weiner, who has been spearheading getting kids to these venues, getting kids into the building. We’ve had terrific producers along the years, and our research staff is second to none.”
“It’s an incredible group of people that work tirelessly calling high schools, calling colleges and sports information directors and getting all of the pronunciations accurate, getting all of the high school information, their season stats, all their scouting grades. Because it’s an important moment in all of these lives; these young men are watching the draft, if they’re not in the building they’re at home having a draft party with their family and friends.”
He said that’s been a key thing for him to keep in mind, as the wrong words can have an impact on those players and their families and friends.
“After Commissioner Manfred says ‘With the second pick, the Texas Rangers select Jack Leiter,’ just using him as an example, everyone surrounding Jack is piped in and listening to what I say. And that is incredibly important. When [Dodgers’ shortstop] Corey Seager was selected in the first round, I had a ton of information in front of me, like I do with all these kids. And as we were showing video of Corey Seager, I said ‘Some scouts believe that because of his size, he will grow into his body more and he may have to transition to third base.'”
“Well, I didn’t know that that really upset Corey Seager. It took the “air” out of his draft party, because he viewed himself as a shortstop. And it did hurt his feelings, in that moment. And to me, it was just symbolic of how these words, these precious words we say after each kid is drafted, it matters to them and everyone they know. And we honor that, and that’s the approach we take when we get ready for any pick and any name that comes out of the commissioner’s mouth.”
Of course, some draft coverage absolutely focuses on analysts harshly criticizing players and picks, perhaps especially in the NFL. But Amsinger said he doesn’t think that’s a great approach with the MLB draft, because while that pick-to-pro pipeline may be shortening, it’s still longer than what we see in those other sports, and the selected players still need to grow and adjust before they play in the big leagues.
“There is a unique aspect to a MLB draft. The NFL is dealing with something different, the NBA is dealing with something different, where the team is dealing with an on-court, on-field need that even the fans know. If the Jets clearly need a quarterback, that can be addressed tonight in the draft. That’s not the case in the MLB draft. None of these guys are going to go right into the starting lineup for the Dodgers the next day, that’s not going to happen.”
“There is a maturation process for everyone involved. These young men are going to be groomed to get ready for the big leagues. It’s hard for us to be as critical as other drafts, because it’s not fair; the game isn’t ‘Are they ready, are they big-league ready right now?’ We’ll do a segment on guys who are quickest to the big leagues, but that’s abnormal, and we shouldn’t paint every one of these draft picks with the same brush.”
It’s been a long time since Amsinger and MLB Network started with the 2009 draft, but he said one event from that particular draft still sticks in his mind, and is part of what gets him really excited to cover the draft. Eight top amateur players are expected to attend this draft in person, but back in 2009, there was only one.
“I’ve got an emotional connection to this event, because I’ll never forget our maiden voyage in 2009 when we couldn’t get any players to show up in studio,” Amsinger said. “We got one kid to show up, and he was from the state of New Jersey, and he had the courage to sit there. We were only airing the first 30 picks, and we thought he might go number 24 to the Angels. Instead, they took a toolsy outfielder named Randall Grichuk.”
“So I was thinking ‘I don’t know, this is another toolsy outfielder, they’re not going to take him with their second pick in the first round. This is a disaster, the only kid that showed up is not going to get drafted, and we kept showing him through the entire draft!’ Well, he finally got drafted [with the next pick], and it was the Angels, and it was a kid named Mike Trout. So with his stardom sort of connected to this fledgling MLB Network and our maiden voyage of trying to be a powerhouse in sports cable TV, I am emotionally connected to this event because of that great night.”
MLB Network’s draft coverage will start with a preview show at 6 p.m. ET Sunday, then live coverage of the first round and Competitive Balance Round A beginning at 7 p.m. ET. They’ll also air the second round live beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern Monday.
[Photo from MLB Network]