ST. LOUIS — Although the NFL draft is covered live by ESPN-TV, and NBC-TV televises bouncing Ping-Pong balls in the NBA lottery, baseball's June Free Agent Draft virtually is ignored by fans.
Few of the players are known to the public, many emerge from the high school ranks, and even the finest amateurs in the world might never play in the major leagues.
It's the biggest crapshoot in the business. After all, if it were an exact science, Joe McIlvaine, then with the New York Mets, never would have made Shawn Abner the No. 1 pick in 1984. Jose Canseco wouldn't have gone in the 15th round. Tony Gwynn wouldn't have been a third-round pick.
"And of all the drafts I've been involved in," said McIlvaine, now general manager of the Padres, "this is probably the most unpredictable and directionless. This one is impossible to predict. Nothing is clear-cut."
And yet . . .
"It's the most important day of the calendar year for a baseball franchise," McIlvaine said. "This is the basis of everything you do in the organization."
The Padres, however, will be at a disadvantage Monday when the draft begins. They surrendered their No. 1 pick to the Kansas City Royals when they signed free-agent second baseman Kurt Stillwell. Their first selection won't be until the 55th pick.
"We're just going to have to sit back and wait," McIlvaine said. "We're at the mercy of the teams at the top. I have no idea who we'll pick. We'll just line them up, and take the best athlete that's available, preferably, a high-school player."
History indicates there has been plenty of talent emerge from the later rounds.
In the 1981 draft, Gwynn, David Cone, Sid Fernandez, Frank Viola, Mark Langston, Sid Bream and Todd Benzinger all were available after the first round.
McIlvaine's only decree in this draft is that he probably won't draft any players who were previously selected and bypassed the pros for college.
"I don't draft guys who received good offers and didn't sign," McIlvaine said. "To me, that shows they didn't want to play baseball badly enough."
The Padres, like most other teams, also will try to avoid players who are represented by agent Scott Boras. McIlvaine and the baseball industry are wary of Boras' tactics, which have resulted in bloated signing bonuses. Brien Taylor, represented by Boras last year, raised the standards to a new level when he received a $1.55-million bonus from the New York Yankees.
In fact, the Padres probably never would have drafted pitcher Joey Hamilton last year if they knew of Boras' involvement. Hamilton told the Padres before the draft he had no adviser, but after the Padres' selected him with their eighth pick, they became aware that they had been deceived.
"Basically, he (Hamilton) lied to us," McIlvaine said. "We had no idea. That's why half the time, you don't know who he represents. He's very good at that. His clients are very good about keeping their mouths shut."
The Padres, guided by the recommendations of scouting director Reggie Waller, will be trying to stock their thin farm system. Although there are more than 25 players floating around in the major leagues that were signed and developed by the Padres, few remain in their own organization.
Catcher Benito Santiago, left fielder Jerald Clark and Gwynn are the Padres' only everyday players who were signed by the organization. Andy Benes and Greg Harris are the only pitchers on the big-league roster signed and drafted by the Padres.
Of course, the farm system did enable the Padres to acquire third baseman Gary Sheffield from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade for three home-grown products--pitcher Ricky Bones, outfielder Matt Mieske and shortstop Jose Valentin.
"So it works both ways," McIlvaine said. "We wouldn't have had Fred McGriff or Tony Fernandez, either, if not for Roberto Alomar."
The Padres are without a first-round pick for only the second time in their franchise history.