Inbox, comparisons edition: EDLC, Skenes, Crews, Clark

June 7th, 2023

What a packed time on the baseball calendar. We're two months into the Major League and full-season Minor League seasons, Rookie ball is just starting up, the NCAA Super Regionals this weekend will resolve who's headed to the College World Series and teams are finalizing evaluations for next month's Draft. On that last subject, let's dive into an all-Draft Pipeline Inbox ...

With all the hype surrounding Elly De La Cruz, how does he compare to some of the top position players in this year's Draft? -- @StevieDAles97

When we tackled this question on the latest Pipeline Podcast, I got so tongue-tied trying to say that Elly De La Cruz is incomparable because he's a unicorn that I called him "Elly De La Corn." I don't think that nickname is going to catch on.

De La Cruz, who smoked a double in his big league debut last night, might have the best all-around tools in the Majors of anyone besides Shohei Ohtani. He's a faster and more advanced hitting version of Oneil Cruz.

There are five very talented players who have separated themselves from the rest of the 2023 Draft class: Louisiana State outfielder Dylan Crews and right-hander Paul Skenes, Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford, prep outfielders Walker Jenkins and Max Clark. But none of them can match up tool for tool with De La Cruz.

Crews has more pure hitting ability, but De La Cruz is comparable in that regard to the other three outfielders. He has more power than any of them (Langford would be the closest), only Clark can match his speed and maybe his arm strength and De La Cruz has more defensive value with solid glovework at either shortstop or third base.

Crews and Langford have starred in the Southeastern Conference, the best league in college baseball but also several levels removed from Triple-A, where De La Cruz dominated at the same age (21) as they are. If De La Cruz were part of the 2023 Draft, he'd be the easy No. 1 overall pick based on physical ability and performance.

Everybody keeps comparing Skenes to Strasburg (arguably the greatest college pitcher of all-time) Why in everybody's mock drafts are the Pirates taking Crews? Who is Crews comparable to? -- @jferg77

I've made that statement several times myself, and Strasburg is the best pitching prospect in the history of the Draft. Yet there's a strong consensus among club executives and scouts that the Pirates will and should take Crews with the No. 1 overall pick.

Crews is an extremely gifted hitter with plus power and speed and also has a good chance to remain in center field. The reason there's so much belief that Pittsburgh should select him stems not only from his talent but also because position players entail less risk than pitchers.

But I think a strong case also could be made that relative to his peers -- not just in 2023, but in the last decade -- Skenes stands out more among the pitchers than Crews does among the position players. I tend to err on the side of ceiling, and I think it's harder to find a pitcher with Skenes' upside than it is an outfielder with Crews'.

For all the hype surrounding Crews, I haven't heard a great comparison this spring and I can't find one from recent Drafts. In terms of the type of big league production he could provide, he's similar to Freddie Freeman, albeit as a righty-hitting outfielder. Among the outfielders on our Top 100 Prospects list, he sort of resembles a smaller, righty-hitting version of the Nationals' James Wood with more hitting ability.

First 5 college arms after Paul Skenes you expect to be taken in the Draft? -- @Iambored44

This isn't a good Draft for college arms, thanks to several guys either getting hurt or not developing as hoped. Skenes will go in the first two picks to either the Pirates or Nationals, and fellow right-handers Chase Dollander (Tennessee), Rhett Lowder (Wake Forest) and Hurston Waldrep (Florida) will follow him in the first round.

Texas right-hander Tanner Witt has worked just 9 2/3 innings this spring and hasn't fully returned to form since having Tommy John surgery in March 2022, but there's no reason to think he won't, and he was a slam-dunk first-rounder before he got hurt. He could go in the supplemental first round as someone's second selection, perhaps higher.

Kent State's Joe Whitman has gone from pitching only 5 2/3 innings in two seasons at Purdue to becoming the best college left-hander in this class. He also could factor into the supplemental first round. After those half-dozen college arms, that demographic gets very murky.

Max Clark and Pete Crow-Armstrong seem like similar prospects coming into the Draft. What makes Max Clark different as a prospect, and how much of a “haircut” do you think he’d take if Pirates picked him 1.1? -- @2000sSports

Clark and Crow-Armstrong were similar as prepsters who were hit-over-power guys and no-doubt center fielders. But there were some questions about Crow-Armstrong's offensive impact at the same stage of their careers, which is why he lasted 19 selections in 2020. Clark will go significantly higher next month.

Crow-Armstrong has made some swing changes and other adjustments since the Mets traded him to the Cubs, so now present-day PCA and high school Clark have comparable offensive profiles. Clark's speed and arm strength are a grade better than those of Crow-Armstrong, who has the advantage of being the best defensive center fielder in the Minors.

At worst, Clark figures to go fifth in the Draft, and the No. 5 pick (which belongs to the Twins) comes with an assigned value of $7,139,700. If it appears he'll last that long -- I keep projecting him at No. 5 in mock drafts -- he could sign for $7.5 million to $8 million if the Pirates cut a deal with him at No. 1. That would save Pittsburgh $1.7 million to $2.2 million versus its bonus pool.