- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) - The Houston Astros are on the clock to lead off the Major League Baseball draft for the third straight year.

While it lacks the endless hype and agonizing debates over who should go No. 1 that mark the weeks leading up to the NFL and NBA drafts, baseball’s version has grown both as a production and in relevance the last few years.

Sure, most of the names Commissioner Bud Selig calls on Thursday night will be familiar to only die-hard draftniks, ardent college and high school fans - and the players’ families and friends. But some of the game’s biggest stars were in this very spot just a few years ago.

Tampa Bay’s David Price (2007), Washington’s Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010), and Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole (2011) were all recent No. 1 overall selections. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, perhaps the game’s most complete hitter, was a New Jersey high school star who went 25th in 2009 - and was the only player in attendance at the draft’s site at the MLB Network Studio.

For years, the draft was done solely via conference calls with each team, and only the first round was available live to the media. After two years of a live television “event” in Orlando, Florida, Major League Baseball moved it to Secaucus in 2009. Last year, a draft-record nine prospects attended, sitting in makeshift dugouts in the studio while waiting to hear Selig announce their names.

Here are five things to know about the draft:

WHO’S UP FIRST? The Astros are No. 1 for the fifth time overall, and are the first team to pick in the top spot three consecutive times.

The draft order is determined by the reverse order of finish in baseball’s overall standings from last season - and Houston has had the dubious distinction of having the worst record three years running. Baseball used to alternate No. 1 selections between leagues each year, so a team couldn’t have the top pick in back-to-back years. They changed those rules starting in 2005, and teams are not allowed to trade picks.

The first two rounds and two competitive balance rounds are completed Thursday night. Rounds 3-10 will be held via conference call with team representatives Friday, and rounds 11-40 on Saturday.

WHO’S NO. 1? Houston has a few options with the first pick, including a pair of California high school stars in left-hander Brady Aiken and catcher-outfielder Alex Jackson, and North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon.

The Astros selected Stanford pitcher Mark Appel last year and shortstop Carlos Correa from Puerto Rico in 2012. Their other No. 1 picks were Floyd Bannister in 1976 and Phil Nevin in 1992.

Since Rick Monday was the first No. 1 overall pick by the Dodgers in 1965, only two top selections - other than Appel and Correa - have never made it to the majors: Steve Chilcott (1966) and Brien Taylor (1991). Matt Bush (1994) could join them as his playing career has been derailed by personal and legal troubles.

TOP PROSPECTS: Power pitchers are plentiful in this year’s draft class.

Including Aiken and Rodon, at least 15 or 16 college and high school pitchers could get taken in the opening round. The record is 20 in 2001, a number that could be surpassed with this impressive crop of hurlers.

Among potential first-rounders are Vanderbilt RHP Tyler Beede, TCU LHP Brandon Finnegan, Evansville LHP Kyle Freeland, East Carolina RHP Jeff Hoffman, Texas high school RHP Tyler Kolek, LSU RHP Aaron Nola and Florida high school RHP Touki Toussaint.

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