In most years, a college team might have one player who sits at or near the top of the Draft and other Draft-eligible teammates benefit from the attention that player gets. Every once in a while, there are duos who both belong in top 10 conversations. Rarely, if ever, have there been two players from one program who are equally considered to be legitimate No. 1 pick contenders.
That kind of historic 1-2 punch is one of the big things making the 2023 Draft class particularly intriguing, and that’s reflected in MLB Pipeline’s new Top 150 Draft Prospects list. The top two players on the list both call Louisiana State home. And as of right now, either outfielder Dylan Crews or right-hander Paul Skenes could very well be the guy the Pirates take No. 1 overall.
1. Dylan Crews, OF, LSU
2. Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU
3. Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida
4. Walker Jenkins, OF, South Brunswick (N.C.) HS
5. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Ind.) HS
6. Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee
7. Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon
8. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Mississippi
9. Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest
10. Enrique Bradfield, OF, Vanderbilt
Complete list »
“Crews and Skenes or Skenes and Crews,” one American League scouting executive said. “They’re definitely the favorites going down to the wire. The 2023 Draft pole position has been set. There are still two laps to go. Both players are getting stronger down the stretch, the engines are definitely revved, and they are operating on all cylinders. It’s a special combination down in the Bayou.
“They are historic seasons from a pitcher and hitter on the No. 1 ranked team in the country. LSU is a blue-blood college baseball team in the best conference in the country. It would be unprecedented if they go 1 and 2. Although right now, it would almost be an upset if they didn’t.”
Crews has hit since he set foot on campus for the 2021 season, and this year he’s taken his game to another level. The center fielder has hit .485/.636/.841, leading the nation in hitting and on-base percentage. He’s also seventh in slugging and has walked more than twice as much as he’s struck out. The crazy thing is that if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, Crews likely would never have played an inning for the Tigers
“If it’s not for COVID, Crews doesn’t get to college,” a National League scouting executive agreed. “The kid’s ability is through the roof. The scouts in Florida would have seen it. College benefited from the pandemic. He’s the best college hitter I’ve seen in a long time.”
Skenes has done more than his fair share to keep up on the mound. The transfer from Air Force is running away with the Division I strikeout title, and his 115 K’s in 59 1/3 innings give him a nation-best 17.4 K/9. His 0.74 WHIP is also the lowest in the country as he’s walked just 12 and given up 32 hits. Opposing hitters are hitting .153. They have no idea what to do with Skenes’ fastball that routinely hits triple-digits, his unhittable power slider and his solid changeup. There’s a reason why scouts are saying he’s the best pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg went No. 1 overall in 2009.
“I saw the game where Strasburg struck out 23 (as a college sophomore),” an NL national crosschecker said. “His stuff, he had better command, control and more power to his stuff. I know [Skenes] sits 99, but Strasburg’s fastball didn’t go straight even if he tried. They both have the same aggressive approach to pitching. They both have really good baseball IQ on the mound. I think Skenes is the better athlete and that might give him the advantage.”
MLB Pipeline has never before had teammates sit 1-2 atop its Draft rankings since they started in 2011, though there have been some very good college tandems in the past:
2021 – Jack Leiter (2) and Kumar Rocker (6), Vanderbilt
2018 – Brady Singer (2) and Jonathan India (8), Florida
2017 – Kyle Wright (3) and Jeren Kendall (6), Vanderbilt; Pavin Smith (8) and Adam Haseley (10), Virginia
2015 – Dansby Swanson (2) and Carson Fulmer (3), Vanderbilt
2011 – Gerrit Cole (1) and Trevor Bauer (10), UCLA
Cole and Bauer are the closest baseball has come to having teammates get taken with the first two picks of the Draft. Cole was the top pick of the Pirates that June, while the D-backs took Bauer two picks later at No. 3. Other teammates taken in the top 10 since 2000:
2021 – Leiter (2) and Rocker (10)
2017 – Smith (7) and Hasely (8)
2015 – Swanson (1) and Fulmer (8)
2011 – Cole (1) and Bauer (3)
2007 – David Price (1) and Casey Weathers (8)
2004 – Philip Humber (3), Jeff Niemann (4) and Wade Townsend (8)
“Crews and Skenes are equally being talked about,” an NL scouting director said. “There’s a ton of pressure on both of them. It’s been this way since the season started. It’s not like one of these guys snuck up on us this spring.”
“Crews may go 1-1,” another NL scouting executive said. “And Skenes is going 2 if he doesn’t go 1.”
That’s not to say the Pirates have figured out who they’re going to take. The LSU duo are obviously in the middle of discussions, but there are other options, players some in the industry like just as much as Crews and Skenes. One scouting director said he’d take Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford over Crews when comparing college outfielders, and there’s growing buzz about North Carolina high school outfielder Walker Jenkins, with multiple decision-makers hinting he might be the best player in the class.
Indiana prep outfielder Max Clark might have the highest ceiling in the entire class, and some feel he’s the one who has the best chance to be a true five-tool superstar. Tennessee right-hander Chase Dollander hasn’t been as dominant as he was as a sophomore and hasn’t been as good as Skenes, but his stuff has still been very good. All six players atop this Top 150 are believed to be in play for the Pirates.
Arguments could be made for most of these players to be taken with the top pick, with one executive saying that when a college pitcher is the clear best college arm, he often goes at the top of the Draft, while then asking how other top college arms (mentioning Kris Benson, Bryan Bullington and even Mark Prior, who was the No. 2 pick in his Draft, as cautionary tales) have fared in the big leagues.
“The top of this Draft is really, really good,” he concluded. “I think you’d be thrilled to be looking at any of them.”