The top 7 storylines from Day 1 of 2023 MLB Draft

July 10th, 2023

SEATTLE -- The talent was massive, and so was the setting.

Everything about the 2023 MLB Draft just felt and looked bigger. With an especially deep pool of players -- including two college teammates among a handful of players with a legit chance of going No. 1 overall -- this was considered one of the deepest first-round pools in memory. And with a sprawling platform spread across Lumen Field, where the NFL’s Seahawks play, the stage was quite literally set for Draft drama when the first round was held Sunday night.

This was the third year that the Draft was a fan-attended All-Star Week event but, notably, the first in which it was directly connected to Play Ball Park, the experiential fanfest. That meant easily the most-attended Draft in history, with fans packing not only the area in front of the stage but also a wide swath of the seated sections of a stadium that was already notorious for its crowd noise.

Each of the 70 picks selected on Day 1 of the Draft has his own scouting report and story. And as usual, it will be years – decades, perhaps – before we can fully make sense of what we just watched. But for now, here are seven broad takeaways from the experience.

1. Everything’s coming up LSU

How do you follow up a thrilling and highly entertaining run to the title in the 2023 Men’s College World Series?

Well, having two of your players go 1-2 overall is a pretty decent encore.

With right-handed power pitcher Paul Skenes going No. 1 overall to the Pirates and dynamic outfielder Dylan Crews going No. 2 to the Nationals, Louisiana State University's baseball program, headed by Jay Johnson, became the first to have two teammates taken with the top two picks. And Johnson himself was in attendance as part of the MLB Network on-air crew.

“Can’t quantify it,” Johnson said of the achievement. “If you want it to be about development for Major League Baseball, well, you’re seeing it here tonight.”

Though Skenes and Crews were widely viewed as the two best players in this Draft, that didn’t mean it was a given they’d go 1-2. There was some speculation that the Pirates could veer away from that powerful pair in order to spread around their Draft bonus pool allocation. Ultimately, though, Skenes was too good to pass up, and then the Nationals, who were always assumed to be taking one of the two, made probably the easiest decision of the night.

2. Oh, and then there were the other Tigers…

Once the LSU Tigers were off the board, all eyes were on the Detroit Tigers. They were in an interesting position, because Indiana high school outfielder Max Clark and University of Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford were both there for the taking, and either would be a valid No. 1 overall pick many years.

Though Langford just led the Gators to a runner-up finish in the College World Series, the Tigers went the high-risk/high-reward route with Clark, who in addition to being a flashy player is also a flashy personality with a huge social media following. The Tigers fell in love with Clark’s energy, upside and athleticism. He seems a lock to stick in center field, which was important to them.

3. Depth and drama

This was no ordinary first-round class. A lingering effect of COVID-19 was one of the deeper Draft classes in memory, including a handful of kids who legitimately could have gone No. 1. The pandemic had caused some prominent prep prospects, including Crews, to go to college rather than go pro in the shortened 2020 Draft. Three years later, they were Draft-eligible again.

“It’s crazy to see, a guy like Jacob Wilson as the sixth pick,” said Oregon high school right-hander Noble Meyer, who went to the Marlins at No. 10. “He’s 1-1 in many of these Drafts. … You can probably name 25 guys in this Draft that are top 10 in many other Drafts. COVID might have something to do with it, but this is once-in-a-lifetime.”

A deep Draft meant a dynamic one. Though the MLB Pipeline crew and other outlets do their best to rank the eligible players, there’s no telling how individual teams will align them on their boards. Going by the Pipeline rankings, the biggest surprise was Florida Atlantic first baseman Nolan Schanuel going 11th overall to the Angels after being ranked 26th.

Though it was forecast in some corners, the Royals’ selection of Texas high schooler Blake Mitchell as the first catcher overall at No. 8 was also among the more interesting selections. Mitchell was ranked second among catchers and 14th overall by Pipeline, and high school catching is considered an especially risky Draft commodity.

The Astros also raised some eyebrows with their pick of Nebraska shortstop Brice Matthews with the 28th overall pick to wrap up the first round. Matthews had been ranked 57th by Pipeline and went to high school in Humble, Texas, which is just outside of Houston.

4. Viva the two-way player!

If the Giants somehow sign All-Star Shohei Ohtani as a free agent this winter, he won’t be the first two-way player in their organization. Or even the second.

Drafting two-way players is a brewing tradition for the Giants, who took Virginia prepster Bryce Eldridge at No. 16 just one year after taking UConn’s Reggie Crawford at No. 30 overall.

Crawford was selected during his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and the Giants have been very careful with his schedule. At Single-A San Jose this season, he’s pitched 11 innings to the tune of a 4.09 ERA with 18 strikeouts and made four starts as a DH, going 4-for-16 with a homer and two doubles.

Though Crawford is currently the only two-way player on any of MLB Pipeline’s team Top 30 prospects list, that’s about to change.

Eldridge is an imposing 6-foot-7, 230-pound presence with a power bat and a power fastball. Scouts generally seem to think his greatest upside is at the plate, but Eldridge recently told that sticking as a two-way player is something he’s “super dedicated to,” and the Giants are on board. You can read more about Eldridge’s big dreams and big heart here.

5. The impact of the CBA

This was the first Draft to feel the effects of the 2022-26 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which introduced us to two new wrinkles:

The MLB Draft Lottery

At the Winter Meetings last December, the inaugural Draft lottery was held. All 18 non-playoff teams from 2022 were eligible for the No. 1 pick, with their percentage odds determined by their ’22 record.

The Pirates won the lottery ... and, as it turns out, Skenes. With the third-worst winning percentage in 2022, that was no major upset. But the Tigers went from sixth-worst record to third pick in the Draft, and it landed them Clark; the Rangers moved from seventh-worst record to the fourth pick, and it landed them Langford; and the Twins went from the 13th-worst record to No. 5, which landed them highly touted prep outfielder Walker Jenkins.

On the flip side, the A’s dropped from second-worst record to the sixth pick, where they took shortstop Jacob Wilson (son of former Major Leaguer Jack Wilson); and the Reds went from fourth to seventh, where they took Lowder.

The Prospect Promotion Incentive Pick

While the MLB Draft Lottery is aimed at discouraging tanking (with more measures toward that end than any other major professional Draft), the promotion incentive is aimed at preventing teams from manipulating the service time of some of the game’s budding stars.

Here’s how it works: If a team devotes an Opening Day roster spot to a rookie player who is ranked in at least two Top 100 prospect lists from, Baseball America or ESPN, it can potentially receive a Prospect Promotion Incentive Pick in the amateur Draft. The pick is received if the player A) Wins Rookie of the Year in his league and/or B) Finishes in the top three in the MVP or Cy Young voting.

Should Virginia high school outfielder Jonny Farmelo become a productive big leaguer for the Mariners one day, you can thank their decision not to hold back Julio Rodríguez on Opening Day 2022. J-Rod, who is now a two-time All-Star already, won AL Rookie of the Year, and now Farmelo is in the fold as the No. 29 overall pick in this Draft as a result.

6. Arm oddities

As an Oregon resident, Noble Meyer said it was an easy choice to attend the Draft. His more difficult decision was what shoes to wear, and he turned out to make a prescient choice by putting on some light blue kicks that went quite well with the Marlins jersey he donned after he was taken at No. 10.

Meyer’s selection was notable in a couple respects. For one, it marked the second time in four years that the first prep arm taken came not just from Oregon, of all places, but specifically Portland’s Jesuit High School, which produced Phillies first-rounder Mick Abel in 2020.

It’s also notable that Meyer was the only prep arm taken in the first round, which has happened only once before (1984). And to make matters more interesting, the Marlins also took the second prep pitcher of the day (not including the two-way Eldridge) when they selected Phillips Academy (Mass.) lefty Thomas White at No. 35 overall in the Competitive Balance Round A segment.

One last oddity, as noted by @CespedesBBQ duo on Twitter: This was the first Draft since 1978 in which no college lefties were taken in the first round. Now you know.

7. Way to go, Tiago!

Needless to say, the large crowd was especially vocal when it came to all things Mariners, including the club’s first pick of the Draft: Ohio high school shortstop Colt Emerson. But the absolute biggest cheers went to the young man who announced the Emerson pick.

When Tiago Viernes was only 2 years old, the Yakima Valley, Wash., child was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma, a form of cancer. His family relocated so that he could get treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where he underwent about two years’ worth of intense treatment.

At last year’s All-Star Game, Rodríguez asked the team for the name of a local cancer patient he could salute during the “Stand Up to Cancer” moment. He wrote “Tiago” on his placard.

Now a healthy 9-year-old, Tiago confidently strode to the Draft podium to a raucous reception. He might not (yet) be a prospect, but he was definitely a fan favorite.