Dylan Crews is the best college OF Draft prospect since ...

December 15th, 2022

MLB Pipeline's new 2023 Draft Top 100 Prospects list is out, and I have a severe case of Draft fever! So guess what the theme of today's Pipeline Inbox will be . . .

Dylan Crews is our preseason No. 1 Draft prospect after batting .356/.458/.677 with 40 homers in his first two seasons at Louisiana State. He's at least a plus hitter with plus power, possesses solid speed and arm strength and has a chance to remain in center field.

In the past five drafts, only three outfielders have ranked in our final top five heading into the Draft: J.J. Bleday in 2019, and Druw Jones and Elijah Green in 2022. Jones was in a class by himself, projecting as a solid hitter with well above-average raw power, speed, arm strength and center-field defense. Crews is a comparable hitter but a better athlete than Bleday (who hasn't produced as hoped for the Marlins), and a better bet to hit than Green, so that would put him at No. 2 behind Jones.

College outfielders aren't a historically strong Draft demographic, so this got me to wondering who was the last prospect from the group better than Crews. Florida's Wyatt Langford, No. 3 on the 2023 list, isn't too far behind Crews either.

The last college player drafted as an outfielder who was a better prospect than Crews was North Carolina's Dustin Ackley, who went No. 2 overall to the Mariners in 2009. He was regarded as perhaps the best pure college hitter since Robin Ventura, though his career didn't turn out nearly that well.

Ackley also comes with a bit of an asterisk, as he was a first baseman for the Tar Heels and made his official pro debut at second base (though he did play some outfield in the Arizona Fall League beforehand). If we only consider players who were outfielders in college, Crews is the best prospect since Florida State's J.D. Drew went No. 2 to the Phillies in 1997.

A Tennessee right-hander, Chase Dollander has it all: an elite fastball, the makings of a wipeout slider and two more secondary pitches that could be plus, advanced command, athleticism, a quality delivery and a track record of performance. If we asked all 30 teams who the best pitcher in the 2023 Draft is right now, I have no doubt that all 30 would vote for Dollander.

Louisiana State righty Paul Skenes was spectacular this fall and could make a run at Dollander if he can sustain that over the full spring after transferring into the Southeastern Conference from Air Force. But as of now, there's a large gap between Dollander and the rest of the college pitchers and a substandard high school mound crop.

Dollander is the best college pitching prospect in a while. He has a deeper repertoire and better command than Vanderbilt's Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker did in 2021, and more pitches and athleticism than Auburn's Casey Mize, the No. 1 overall pick by the Tigers in 2018. San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg (No. 1 to the Nationals in 2009) was the best college pitching prospect ever, and the only one since then better than Dollander was UCLA's Gerrit Cole (No. 1 to the Pirates in 2011).

I'll give you one player from each of the four demographics (college/high school and hitter/pitcher). The first player who jumped to mind was Virginia Tech outfielder Jack Hurley, who outperformed No. 9 overall choice Gavin Cross in the Hokies' lineup last spring. He makes a lot of hard contact and is a plus runner with a good chance to remain in center field.

I'm extremely bullish on Magnolia Heights HS (Senatobia, Miss.) shortstop Cooper Pratt, who's like a right-handed hitting version of Gunnar Henderson at the same stage of their careers. Among college pitchers, keep an eye on Alabama left-hander Grayson Hitt, who looked great in the fall and will be a first-rounder if he can translate his athleticism into control and command. Timberland HS (Wentzville, Mo.) lefty Adam Hachman is 6-foot-5 and already reaches 99 mph with his fastball but needs to show more consistency with his curveball and control while staying healthy this spring.

Even the Pirates don't know what they're going to do with the No. 1 overall selection seven months in advance. But when they had that same choice in 2021, they shopped a deal to multiple players, got Louisville catcher Henry Davis to sign for nearly $2 million under slot and then gave above-slot deals to their next four picks.

I'm a strong believer that teams always should take the best guys available at the top of the Draft, rather than trying to save money and finesse other prospects getting to their subsequent choices. There's no guarantee that the desired players will still be on the board when those selections arrive.

If Pittsburgh does cut a deal, Enrique Bradfield would be a candidate. The Vanderbilt center fielder has top-of-the-line speed and knows how to use it, stealing 46 bases without getting caught last spring and ranking as the best center-field defender in this Draft. He draws comparisons to Kenny Lofton, who won five stolen-base titles and four Gold Gloves, and if he approaches Lofton's career then Bradfield would be a worthy No. 1 pick regardless of the economics involved.