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Note: Astros stripped of first-round pick (and second-round pick) as part of sign-stealing punishment. Table: Axios Visuals

The 2020 MLB draft begins Wednesday and has been shortened from the usual 40 rounds down to just five as a cost-cutting move amid the pandemic.

Why it matters: The mood around baseball has only worsened in recent weeks as the players and owners continue their contentious negotiations, so the league will be hoping the selection of its future stars can provide a momentary reprieve.

The state of play: The MLB draft is unique in that even diehard fans don't really know about top players, due to college baseball's lack of popularity and the reality that even a Zion Williamson-esque prospect won't make the majors for a few years.

  • This year's draft was originally moved from New Jersey to Omaha, Nebraska, to give prospects a better experience and make it a more exciting event, with the College World Series starting in Omaha three days later.
  • Sadly, it will now be held remotely, and the CWS has obviously been canceled. But with sports on pause, perhaps more fans than usual will tune in tonight (the NFL's virtual draft in April smashed ratings records).

Top prospects:

  • Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Arizona State (age: 20): The bat-first power hitter is athletic enough that he could land in left field, but he's a classic 1B slugger. As a freshman in 2018, he led all of D-I with 25 HR.
  • Austin Martin, 2B, Vanderbilt (age: 20): Touted for his elite athleticism, he's been compared to a young Javy Báez. But unlike Báez, he rarely strikes out, with an 85:82 BB:K ratio across two and a half seasons.
  • Asa Lacy, LHP, Texas A&M (age: 21): The highest upside pitcher in the class, Lacy was nearly untouchable in his shortened spring season. Four starts with a 0.75 ERA, 0.708 WHIP and an absurd 17.3 K/9.

Go deeper: The cost of MLB's shortened draft

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Sep 10, 2020 - Sports

Special report: The NFL is back and weirder than ever

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Chiefs beat the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2. One day later, the U.S. declared COVID-19 a public health emergency.

The big picture: A lot has happened in the 223 days since then, highlighted by Tom Brady's arrival in Tampa Bay via free agency and Joe Burrow's arrival in Cincinnati via the NFL's first-ever virtual draft. Teams aced the training camp protocols, but without any preseason games, expect to see some rust when they finally take the field for game day.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

The bomb cyclone and atmospheric river seen via satellite on Sunday. The center of the storm is at the middle of the comma shape, due west of Washington State. (CIRA/RAMMB)

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

Mike Allen, author of AM
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Fauci fires back at Rand Paul for slam on tonight's "Axios on HBO"

Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.