There was little doubt before Sunday’s first round of the MLB Draft that the names of Dylan Crews and Paul Skenes were going to be linked forever in the event’s lore. But only a few days earlier did Wyatt Langford seriously factor into the public conversation.
For months, LSU teammates Crews, a power-hitting center fielder, and Skenes, a hard-throwing right-handed starting pitcher, were thought to be the choice of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won MLB’s first draft lottery to select No. 1 overall. But as the weekend approached, Langford, an outfielder from Florida, was suddenly being projected by prognosticators to go No. 1, potentially to save money for a later pick.
But when the smoke cleared, the Pirates went with the most conventional thinking and chose Skenes, the Most Outstanding Player of the Men’s College World Series. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-hander has been thought of as the best college pitcher in draft history. Think Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole coming out of college. Skenes to the Pirates and Crews to the Washington Nationals at No. 2 made them the first teammates to go in the first two picks in draft history.
— MLB (@MLB) July 9, 2023
The uncertainty surrounding the top pick certainly built the suspense for when Ken Griffey Jr., not MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, announced the Pirates’ preference. Griffey did the honors as a nod not only to where the draft was being held as a precursor to Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Seattle, but to Griffey going No. 1 to the Seattle Mariners in 1987.
In this draft, quality was high, especially the top five prospects. College hitters were the biggest commodity available, followed by high school hitters. Aside from Skenes, pitching was in short supply in the early going.
The reason this draft is so top-heavy is this is the first one truly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 draft was limited to five rounds, which wiped out most senior years of high school players. Those players then went to college and were juniors this season, the year eligible for the draft for collegians at four-year schools.
Here are my top takeaways from the No. 1 pick through the Complete Balance A selections:
Skenes Over Crews
While Skenes and Crews could be on the quick path to an MLB debut and both could become All-Stars quickly, the Pirates continually being linked to Crews over Skenes never made sense to me. Of course, it appears to all be smoke.
Skenes had one of the most dominant seasons in college history, striking out a Southeast Conference-record 209 with a 1.39 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. He walked 20. Having been tagged with an 80 grade (20 to 80 scale), Skenes has a fastball that averages 98 (and reached 103) and pitched 122⅔ innings, meaning his strikeouts per nine innings was a video-game-like 15.33.
It was his only season at LSU, having spent the previous two seasons at Air Force, where he not only pitched, but he was a catcher and designated hitter. But in a highly successful program, Skenes focused on pitching, a move that certainly paid off.
There’s just so much to like about Paul Skenes. pic.twitter.com/MBbDHqIRUT
— Young Bucs (@YoungBucsPIT) July 10, 2023
Crews, meanwhile, has been LSU’s top hitter in all three seasons in Baton Rouge. The right-handed hitter slashed .426/.567/.713 with 18 homers and 70 RBIs to not only be named SEC Player of the Year for the second straight year, the only one in conference history to do so, but be the Golden Spikes Award winner as the top player in the nation.
No knock on Crews, who could stick in center field defensively, making his offense that much more valuable at a premium position. But getting an ace, especially when the Pirates could use another starting pitcher, seemed to be the only logical choice.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 9, 2023
Top Goes As Expected
Langford’s emergence as a potential No. 1 overall pick just emphasized the upper-tier depth of this draft. Langford, the clear No. 3 prospect as ranked by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, was part of a five-player pool that experts said could go in any order in the first five selections without much of an argument.
The other two in that top five were high school outfielders, Max Clark of Franklin (Indiana) High and Walker Jenkins of South Brunswick (N.C.) High. So when it came time for the Detroit Tigers to pick third, it was a preference choice considering all three are outfielders. Clark was the Tigers’ choice, a bit of a surprise as many thought Detroit would draft a player who could move up quickly. Not that Clark can’t, but high school players generally take longer due to the step up in competition. But with a new front office for the Tigers, it was the bigger bag of tools that prompted the selection of Clark, ranked fifth by BA and Pipeline.
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) July 10, 2023
That left the Texas Rangers likely choosing between Langford and Jenkins, the fourth-best prospect, at No. 4. With the Rangers making big moves in each of the last two offseasons and now a contender, going with the college player in Langford made sense, which is what Texas did.
Langford is legit. 👀 pic.twitter.com/UsCIVN5NWH
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) July 9, 2023
With Jenkins the last of those elite five still on the board, the Minnesota Twins went the easy route and grabbed Jenkins.
Regardless of sport, but especially baseball, the top few picks generally don’t go as they did Sunday, with the best five prospects going in the first five selections.
Seeking The Next Ohtani
While LSU coach Jay Johnson, on MLB Network as a draft analyst, said Skenes could have hit 25 homers for the Tigers this season, he kept his ace pitcher on the mound so he could become more polished. Still, one has to wonder if the Pirates will eventually give Skenes a chance to show his plate skills.
Regardless, MLB teams are always in search of ways to save money, so finding a two-way player the likes of Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani is always on everyone’s radar. Some teams just go a little further.
For the second straight year, the San Francisco Giants went with a two-way player, this time selecting first baseman and right-handed pitcher Bryce Eldridge out of James Madison (Va.) High School. Reggie Crawford, also a first baseman and a left-handed pitcher, was the 30th overall pick out of Connecticut last year. Eldridge struck out 66 in 39⅔ while posting a 1.06 ERA on the mound, while hitting .422 with eight homers and a 1.716 OPS. The 6-foot-7 righty reaches the mid-90s with his fastball.
The Pirates were the obvious winner in MLB’s initial draft lottery, not just winning the right to choose No. 1, but landing a potential franchise ace in Skenes. They only moved up two spots, though, and had the same chance as the other two teams ahead of them in the reverse standing.
But the Twins were the biggest winner, moving up eight spots and getting one of the five elite players in Jenkins. All 18 teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year had a shot at No. 1. The Nationals, like the Pirates, were one of the three teams with a 16.5% chance of picking first. They slid one spot to No. 2.
As for the unlucky team, that would be the Oakland A’s. I know, shocking, right? The A’s, who had the worst record in MLB in 2022, fell all the way to No. 6. While they didn’t land one of those five premium players, they got a rather unique player. That would be Jacob Wilson, a shortstop at Grand Canyon and the son of former major-leaguer Jack Wilson. The younger Wilson has made quite the reputation for his ability to put the bat on the ball, striking out just 12 times in 492 plate appearances the last two years. While there are questions about his exit velocity, he hit 12 homers in 2022 and six in 2023, but raised his slugging percentage this year by 50 points.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) July 10, 2023
The A’s kept the family theme going with their next pick, a Competitive Balance A selection at No. 39. That is when Oakland went with Myles Naylor, a third baseman from St. Joan of Arc High School in Maple, Ontario, in Canada. He is the third Naylor brother to be drafted before the second round, with Josh Naylor going 12th overall in 2015 and Bo Naylor 29th in 2018.
While his two older brothers are currently in the majors with the Cleveland Guardians, Myles will have another family member in the A’s system should the Texas Tech recruit sign. Cousin Denzel Clarke, a fourth-rounder last year, is currently in Double-A with the A’s. Unlike his brothers, Myles is a right-handed hitter.