Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews made history on Sunday during the 2023 MLB Draft as the first college teammates to finish first and second overall, a fitting honor for a duo that dominated their road to a national championship with LSU.
The Pittsburgh Pirates made the first move by selecting Skenes with the top pick. The Nationals followed with Crews at No. 2.
Just a few weeks ago, Crews and Skenes were hoisting the College World Series trophy at the end of a dream season for LSU, beating conference rival Florida 18-4 in Game 3 of the winner-takes-all Finals . Florida’s own star, Wyatt Langford, was number 4 overall with the Texas Rangers on Sunday.
However, the LSU pair didn’t need a championship to establish themselves as top prospects.
Will the Pirates get Stephen Strasburg 2.0 with Paul Skenes?
Fourteen years ago, Stephen Strasburg, a pitcher from San Diego State, entered the 2009 MLB Draft, hyped as the greatest pitcher of a generation.
His arsenal included a fastball that regularly hit triple digits, one of the nastiest break balls in the college ranks, a change that showed tremendous promise and the command to make the whole pack work. This year the draft saw a prospect with essentially the same set of tools, plus a track record of SEC dominance and a College World Series title.
Skenes joined LSU last offseason as a transfer from the Air Force and quickly established himself as an electrical prospect even before he started mowing through SEC competition. In 122 2/3 innings over 19 starts, Skenes posted a 1.69 ERA with 209 strikeouts (15.3 strikeouts per nine innings), 20 walks and a 0.75 ERA.
He earned Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series, with 21 strikeouts and two earned runs allowed in 15 2/3 innings over two starts. He also won the Dick Howser Trophy, a national award for Player of the Year and National Pitcher of the Year.
Due to Shohei Ohtani’s existence, we should also mention that Skenes was a legitimate two-way player before transferring to LSU and focusing on pitching. In his senior year in the Air Force, he hit .314/.412/.634 with 13 homers, but is not expected to bat as a professional.
Skenes has generational heritage, a scintillating track record and great dimensions, at a listed 6-foot-6, 247 pounds. What’s the downside? Well, he’s a pitcher, and pitching prospects are notoriously volatile. And while regularly throwing 100 mph is cause for excitement, it’s also cause for concern.
The list of starting pitchers trying to live north of 100 mph or even close to it isn’t encouraging if you’re investing in Skenes’ long-term future. Jacob deGrom has had two Tommy John surgeries. Strasburg may never throw again. Matt Harvey is retired. Noah Syndergaard could be right behind him. Dustin May just had his second major elbow surgery in three years.
There are counterexamples, such as the consistently healthy Gerrit Cole and Sandy Alcantara (neither of whom throw as hard as Skenes), but recent history suggests that the human arm simply isn’t built to withstand dozens of 100 mph fastballs over 30 starts . per season.
On the other hand, deGrom won two Cy Young Awards and Strasburg won a World Series MVP. A lot of good can happen even when injuries seem inevitable – and sometimes they aren’t.
Dylan Crews lands at Nationals after 3 great years at LSU
With the second pick, the Nationals got the man everyone expected to go first a few months ago.
Crews was considered a top contender for the 2020 MLB Draft, but withdrew his name late in the process, opting to honor his commitment to LSU. He went on to play exactly like an MLB top contender in college, earning National Freshman of the Year and All-American honors by hitting .362/.453/.663 with 18 homers in his first season in Baton Rouge.
Success kept coming as a sophomore, as Crews earned co-SEC Baseball Player of the Year, but things took off during his junior season. Crews’ batting average was north of .500 for months, and his tally totaled .426/.567/.713, with 18 home runs and 71 walks against 41 strikeouts. That effort earned Crews the prestigious Golden Spikes Award for the best player in college baseball.
Crews reached base in all 71 games he played that season, with his final hit coming in a leadoff triple against Florida in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the College World Series final. Echo Angel Reese of the LSU women’s basketball team and Joe Burrow of the soccer team, he gestured for a ring:
While widely ranked as the leading hitter in this draft, Crews is not a perfect prospect. His baseline numbers look incredible, but his batting data showed a significant increase in grounders and a decrease in line drives in 2023. There’s also a chance he won’t get stuck in center field, putting even more pressure on his bat. propelling him to All-Star status.
Those weren’t big enough to significantly reduce Crews’ draft status, of course, but they weren’t nothing, given the other choices available.
Crews seemed like an easy pick for the Pirates early in the season, but Skenes’ dominance in the postseason made the choice a legitimate discussion about which prospect to take. With the demands for signing bonuses looming high, Crews came in second.
Pirates came first in MLB’s first draft lottery
Before 2023, the Nationals would have been automatically given the top pick after an MLB worst 55-107 in 2022. Instead, the Pirates pounced on them.
This was the first year of MLB’s highly anticipated lottery, the league’s answer to more than a decade of teams stripping their rosters to the bone to load draft picks. While the strategy worked for teams like the 2016 Chicago Cubs and 2017 Houston Astros, the decline in competitive teams made for a miserable experience for some fans and frustration for the MLB Players Association.
As a result, MLB agreed to institute a draft lottery in the final collective bargaining agreement, with the three worst teams all given a 16.5% chance of the top pick. The Nationals could have fallen much lower than second place as they only had a 15.6% chance of the second pick. The biggest loser was the Oakland Athletics, a theme this year. Despite having the same top pick chances as the Pirates and Nationals, the A’s fell all the way to the sixth overall pick.
The other major quirk of the draft lottery is that teams cannot be selected in the lottery more than two years in a row if they receive from the MLB revenue sharing pool, while teams that contribute to revenue sharing (read: large market teams) cannot participate in the lottery in consecutive years.
That means each of this year’s top six teams will be eligible for the lottery next season, but if they win another top six pick, they’ll be ruled out for 2025.
The entire MLB Draft first round
1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU
2. Washington Nationals: Dylan Crews, OR, LSU
3. Detroit Tigers: Max Clark, OR, Franklin Community High School (Indiana)
4. Texas Rangers: Wyatt Langford, OR, Florida
5. Minnesota Twins: Walker Jenkins, OR, South Brunswick High School (North Carolina)
6. Oakland A’s: Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon University
7. Cincinnati Reds: Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest
8. Kansas City Royals: Blake Mitchell, C, Sinton High School (Texas)
9. Colorado Rockies: Chase Dollander, Tennessee RHP
10. Miami Marlins: Noble Meyer, RHP, Jesuit High School (Oregon)
11. Los Angeles Angels: Nolan Schanuel, 1B, Florida Atlantic
12. Arizona Diamondbacks: Tommy Troy, 3B, Stanford
13.Chicago Cubs: Matt Shaw, 2B, Maryland
14. Boston Red Sox: Kyle Teel, C, Virginia
15. Chicago White Sox: Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Ole Miss
16. San Francisco Giants: Bryce Eldridge, TWP, James Madison High School (Virginia)
17. Baltimore Orioles: Enrique Bradfield Jr., VAN, Vanderbilt
18. Milwaukee Brewers: Brock Wilken, 3B, Wake Forest
19. Tampa Bay Rays: Brayden Taylor, SS, TCU
20. Toronto Blue Jays: Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest High School (Florida)
21. St. Louis Cardinals: Chase Davis, OR, Arizona
22. Seattle Mariners: Colt Emerson, SS, John Glenn High School (Ohio)
23. Cleveland Guardians: Ralphy Velazquez, C, Huntington Beach High School (California)
24. Atlanta Braves: Hurston Waldrep, Florida RHP
25. San Diego Padres: Dillon Head, OR, Homewood Flossmoore High School (Illinois)
26. New York Yankees
28. Houston Astros