Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews made history Sunday at the 2023 MLB Draft as the first college teammates to be taken first and second overall, a fitting honor for a duo who dominated their way to a national championship with LSU.
Only a few weeks ago, Crews and Skenes were hoisting the College World Series trophy at the end of a dream season for LSU, defeating conference rival Florida 18-4 in a winner-take-all Game 3 of the final. Florida's own star, Wyatt Langford, went No. 4 overall to the Texas Rangers on Sunday.
The LSU pair didn't need a championship to establish themselves as top prospects, though.
Are the Pirates getting Stephen Strasburg 2.0 with Paul Skenes?
Fourteen years ago, a San Diego State pitcher named Stephen Strasburg entered the 2009 MLB Draft hyped as the best pitching prospect of a generation.
His arsenal featured a fastball that regularly touched triple digits, one of the nastiest breaking balls in the college ranks, a changeup that showed immense promise and the command to make the whole package work. This year, the draft saw a prospect with basically the same set of tools, plus a track record of dominance in the SEC and a College World Series title.
Skenes joined LSU as a transfer from Air Force last offseason and quickly established himself as an electric prospect, even before he started mowing through SEC competition. In 122 2/3 innings across 19 starts, Skenes posted a 1.69 ERA with 209 strikeouts (15.3 strikeouts per nine innings), 20 walks and a 0.75 WHIP.
He earned Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series, with 21 strikeouts and two earned runs allowed in 15 2/3 innings across two starts. He also won the Dick Howser Trophy, a national player of the year award and National Pitcher of the Year.
Due to the existence of Shohei Ohtani, we should also mention that Skenes was a legit two-way player before he transferred to LSU and focused on pitching. In his final year at Air Force, he hit .314/.412/.634 with 13 homers, but he isn't expected to hit as a professional.
Skenes has generational stuff, a sparkling track record and great size, 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 throwing 100 mph regularly is reason for excitement, it’s also reason for worry.
The list of starting pitchers who try to live north of 100 mph, or even near it, is not encouraging if you’re investing in Skenes' long-term future. Jacob deGrom has undergone two Tommy John surgeries. Strasburg might never pitch again. Matt Harvey is retired. Noah Syndergaard might be right behind him. Dustin May just underwent his second major elbow surgery in three years.
There are counter-examples, such as the consistently healthy Gerrit Cole and Sandy Alcantara (neither of whom throws as hard as Skenes), but recent history suggests that the human arm simply isn’t built to withstand dozens of 100 mph fastballs for 30 starts per season.
Then again, deGrom won two Cy Young Awards, and Strasburg won a World Series MVP. Plenty of good can happen even when injuries feel inevitable — and sometimes they aren't.
Dylan Crews lands with Nationals after 3 stellar years at LSU
With the second pick, the Nationals got the guy everyone expected to go first a few months ago.
Crews was considered a top prospect for the 2020 MLB Draft but withdrew his name late in the process and opted to honor his commitment to LSU. He proceeded to play exactly like a top MLB prospect 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.
The success kept coming as a sophomore, when Crews earned co-SEC Baseball Player of the Year, but things went into overdrive his junior season. Crews' batting average lived north of .500 for multiple months, and his numbers settled at .426/.567/.713, with 18 homers and 71 walks against 41 strikeouts. That effort earned Crews the prestigious Golden Spikes Award for the top player in college baseball.
Crews reached base in all 71 games he played that season, with his final hit coming in the form of a leadoff triple against Florida in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the College World Series final. Echoing Angel Reese of the LSU women's basketball team and Joe Burrow of the football team, he signaled for a ring:
— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) June 27, 2023
While he was widely ranked as the top hitter in this draft, Crews isn't a perfect prospect. His basic numbers look incredible, but his batted-ball data showed a significant increase in grounders and a decrease in line drives in 2023. There's also a chance that he doesn't stick at center field, which puts even more pressure on his bat to carry him to All-Star status.
Those weren't big enough concerns to meaningfully diminish Crews' draft status, of course, but they weren't nothing, given the other choices available.
Crews looked like a no-brainer choice for the Pirates early in the season, but Skenes' dominance in the postseason made the choice a legit debate over which prospect to take. With signing bonus demands looming large, Crews went second.
Pirates landed top pick through MLB's first draft lottery
Before 2023, the Nationals would've automatically received the top pick after going an MLB-worst 55-107 in 2022. Instead, the Pirates jumped them.
This was the first year of MLB's long-awaited draft lottery, the league's answer to more than a decade of teams stripping their rosters to the studs to load up on draft picks. While the strategy worked for teams such as the 2016 Chicago Cubs and 2017 Houston Astros, the decrease in competitive teams created 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 latest collective bargaining agreement, with the three worst teams all getting a 16.5% chance at the top pick. The Nationals could've dropped much lower than second, as they had only a 15.6% chance at the second pick. The biggest loser was the Oakland Athletics, which has been something of a theme this year. Despite holding the same odds for the top pick as the Pirates and Nationals, the A's fell all the way to the sixth overall pick.
The other significant quirk of the draft lottery is that teams can't 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) can't be 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 winning a top-six pick again would lock them out for 2025.
The full MLB Draft first round
1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU
2. Washington Nationals: Dylan Crews, OF, LSU
3. Detroit Tigers: Max Clark, OF, Franklin Community High School (Indiana)
4. Texas Rangers: Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida
5. Minnesota Twins: Walker Jenkins, OF, 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, RHP, Tennessee
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., OF, 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, OF, 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, RHP, Florida
25. San Diego Padres: Dillon Head, OF, Homewood Flossmoore High School (Illinois)
26. New York Yankees: George Lombard Jr., SS, Gulliver Prep School (Florida)
27. Philadelphia Phillies: Aidan Miller, SS, J.W. Mitchell High School (Florida)
28. Houston Astros: Brice Matthews, SS, Nebraska